Watchdog foreshadows national blitz against truckers

Ombudsman plans to scrutinise the books of trucking operators across the country due to damning results of Victorian audit

Watchdog foreshadows national blitz against truckers
Watchdog foreshadows national blitz against truckers
By Brad Gardner | September 12, 2012

The workplace watchdog will scrutinise the books of trucking operators across the country in the wake of a Victorian-based audit that netted almost $100,000 in unpaid entitlements for truck drivers.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has announced a national compliance campaign will begin in the second half of 2013, after results from its Victorian audit indicated a trend in the industry of operators failing to correctly pay their drivers.

Inspectors recovered a total of $98,159 for 86 drivers in 2010-11 across various sectors of the industry, with individual employers having to fork out between $676 and $39,736 to rectify breaches.

"The findings of this campaign support the need for further intervention in the transport industry in the form of a national campaign," the final report of the FWO’s Victorian audit states.

The FWO says it received 209 complaints from employees in Victoria’s road freight industry in 2010. Only the state’s hospitality sector generated more complaints. The report says truck drivers were lodging complaints confidentially due to a fear of reprisal from their bosses for speaking out.

The most common infringements related to overtime payments, meal allowances, payslips, penalty rates, wages and records.

"Over the years, we have received a large number of complaints from the transport industry, and it is concerning that this trend is continuing," Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson says.

"There are many trainee and apprentice drivers and employees working across this sector, and we want to ensure they are receiving their lawful minimum entitlements."

FWO inspectors targeted the Victorian sector in two phases, with the first phase of the campaign involving raising awareness of workplace laws among 513 regional transport businesses selected from the phonebook in September 2010.

Inspectors randomly selected 32 businesses out of that bunch on September 27 and asked them to submit their employment records for a compliance check.

The FWO’s report says 27 of the businesses (84 percent) committed 105 separate breaches. Inspectors contacted the operators to ask them to rectify the underpayments.

A follow-up audit of the 27 operators was carried out in June last year as part of the second phase of the campaign, but inspectors found that 18 businesses were still breaching their obligations. However, all but one of the operators had made an attempt to comply.

"In total, 55 contraventions were identified against the 18 non-compliant employers in phase two. Of particular concern was that 12 employers were found to have time and wage record-keeping contraventions in phase two compared to nine in phase one," the FWO’s report says.

It says overtime payments and meal allowances ranked as the most common breaches discovered in the follow-up audit.

However, inspectors also uncovered evidence of incorrect public holiday rates. The report says the breaches were not discovered in the first phase of the campaign because it did not cover a period when a public holiday occurred.

The FWO says the results of the second phase were "disappointing" because businesses had the opportunity to rectify the breaches identified in the first phase of the campaign.

Of the 18 businesses caught still breaching their obligations, five were done for not paying their drivers enough, four had record-keeping contraventions and nine had a combination of monetary and non-monetary breaches.

Inspectors reported uncertainty among operators about which employment award applied to truck drivers. Some operators that tried to fix their mistakes incorrectly calculated the rate of pay or had not finalised back-payments when the second phase of the FWO's campaign started.

The FWO’s report comes only weeks after the government agency announced it was taking Symes Transport to court for allegedly underpaying its drivers more than $250,000 over four years.

The owners of the family-run business are due to face court on September 24 accused of not paying 44 drivers correct hourly rates, overtime rates, shift and meal allowances and annual leave loading.

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