Owner-drivers granted approval to collectively bargain

Competition regulator grants the TWU interim authorisation to bargain on behalf of Queensland owner-drivers contracted to car carrier CEVA Logistics

Owner-drivers granted approval to collectively bargain
Owner-drivers granted approval to collectively bargain
By Brad Gardner | May 28, 2012

Owner-drivers contracted to car carrier CEVA Logistics have been given the go-ahead to collectively bargain following claims their lack of negotiating power was driving down rates.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has granted the 45 subbies working for CEVA in Queensland interim authorisation to form a group to negotiate a number of terms, including freight rates, penalty rates and a clause for payments to rise annually.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) wrote to the competition regulator this month seeking permission for the owner-drivers to collectively bargain, claiming CEVA held too much sway when it came to setting terms and conditions.

According to the union, owner-drivers are given standard terms and are required to accept them or forfeit any work. It says rates have not increased since July 2010.

"The Applicant contends that the imbalance in negotiating power is contrary to the public interest in that it depresses remuneration and conditions in the sector," the TWU’s submission to the ACCC reads.

It says CEVA operates under verbal contracts and does not allow sub-contractors to secure alternative work while contracted to the company.

"The lack of a formal written agreement between CEVA which specifies the terms of the arrangements between the parties makes it more difficult for owner drivers to secure finance that would enable them to upgrade their vehicles and equipment," the TWU says.

"Suppliers often require that owner drivers have their rig painted in company colours or logos. The hours worked for the supplier and the painted company colours make it impossible to secure other work even in the absence of any contractual prohibition."

The ACCC says its decision means the owner-drivers, 31 of which are TWU members, can begin negotiating with CEVA. It says interim authorisation will remain in place until a final determination is introduced.

The TWU wants the authorisation to run for five years, but CEVA says any decision should be limited to three years.

Its General Manager of Human Resources, Mauro Pisegna, wrote to the ACCC claiming collective bargaining would lessen competition in the car-carrying sector and "substantially increase" CEVA’s costs compared to its competitors, which include Patrick Autocare and Toll Auto Logistics.

"The vehicle transportation industry has a number of small independent operators who provide remuneration rates far lower than those of CEVA. This, coupled with the extensive claims of the TWU will place CEVA in a further uncompetitive position," Pisegna says.

However, the union has questioned how CEVA can claim collective bargaining will increase costs because owner-drivers have not yet made any claims regarding rates.

Under the union’s proposal owner-drivers will have the choice to form the negotiating group, which will elect a steering committee.

The committee will negotiate with CEVA, while the TWU will be able to provide administrative support, attend negotiations, draft and amend proposals and speak on behalf of the owner-drivers.

"Any outcome from the proposed negotiations will form a standard contract. Each owner driver will then be able to accept the terms of that contract as the basis for his or her contract with CEVA, or to otherwise negotiate terms," the TWU submission says.

CEVA operates depots south of Brisbane at Acacia Ridge and at Townsville in North Queensland.

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