Consensus missing on Abbott's IR plans

TWU sees RSRT review as unnecessary as ALC backs the move, while conservatives want tougher line generally

May 10, 2013

Bouquets and brickbat flew in response to Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s industrial relations policy, released yesterday.

On the pledge to "urgently review the operation of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and the need for a further level of regulation", Transport Workers’ Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon took up the cudgel.

"It is disappointing that the Coalition’s policy on Fair Work Laws has taken a deeply misguided position on the issues of safe rates of pay for truck drivers and safety on our roads," Sheldon says.

"Hundreds of people are killed in truck crashes each year and thousands more are injured.

"More than 20 years of evidence has shown time and again the link between pay and related conditions for truck drivers and safety on our roads."

He points to academic research and Industrial Relations Commission of NSW, coroner and legal findings to back the case for the Tribunal and is supported by Queensland owner driver and Australian Trucking Association (ATA) general council member Frank Black.

"I’ve seen too many people killed or seriously injured in truck crashes because of the pressures placed on truckies. It doesn't make sense - why would the Coalition want to review the best shot we have ever had to stop the carnage on our roads?" Black says.

However the Australian Logistics Council came out in support of the Opposition’s pledge, with ALC Managing Director Michael Kilgariff saying the proposed review was appropriate given safety matters in the heavy vehicle industry are sufficiently dealt with under other legislative instruments.

"ALC has consistently called for a review of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and I am pleased the Federal Coalition has indicated its preparedness to undertake such a review if it forms government," Kilgariff states.

"ALC believes a review into the Act is warranted given the potential for significant overlap between the Tribunal’s orders and the Heavy Vehicle National Law and workplace health and safety laws.

"The Heavy Vehicle National Law, which is currently being implemented around Australia, specifically manages speeding and fatigue which are the areas of greatest concern in the sector.

"These national laws, which would provide for the first time a national approach to Chain of Responsibility, need to be given time to be implemented and bedded down.

"In its current form, the Road Safety Remuneration Act prevails over all other laws, including the Heavy Vehicle National Law.

"This is a recipe for inefficiency, confusion and increased costs without any demonstrated commensurate improvement in safety.

Kilgariff highlights Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics and Safe Work Australia figures showing safety outcomes in the heavy vehicle industry are improving.

"A national approach to Chain of Responsibility under the Heavy Vehicle National Law will help to support this positive trend continuing," he says.

"ALC is committed to enhancing industry safety and the promotion and adoption of best practice across the industry.

"Consistent with this commitment, ALC believes a review into the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is necessary to ensure it is actually fulfilling its stated objective of increasing safety in the industry."

ATN was awaiting a response from Employment Minister Bill Shorten, who is responsible for the tribunal, at deadline today.

Shorten has so far moved to cast doubt on Abbott’s intensions in what is regarded generally as a very careful policy statement but the Opposition leader was also on the end of criticism from business, conservative media outlets and former conservative politicians who say the policy does not go far enough.

The Australian Industry Group joined The Australian Financial Review and commentators in The Australian who all described it as "timid", while former industrial relations minister Peter Reith told the ABC radio that it was "a policy of a number of band-aids and the big decisions to be made have been put off".

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