WA review to test effectiveness of owner-driver law


Western Australia questions if legislation introduced in 2008 to ensure owner-drivers receive sustainable pay rates has had any effect

WA review to test effectiveness of owner-driver law
WA review to test effectiveness of owner-driver law

By Brad Gardner | November 28, 2013

Legislation introduced in Western Australia five years ago to help owner-drivers receive sustainable pay rates is being reviewed to gauge whether it has been effective.

The Department of Transport has sought industry feedback on the efficacy and relevance of the Owner-Drivers (Contracts and Disputes) Act, which took effect on August 1, 2008 to regulate business relationships between owner-drivers and their customers in the heavy vehicle sector.

The Act provides a framework for one-man trucking outfits to negotiate rates and was introduced due to concerns levels of pay were forcing owner-drivers to work to unsafe schedules, take drugs to drive for longer and cut back on vehicle maintenance.

However, the discussion paper released as part of the review says there is no way of knowing if the Act has achieved its aim of improving the sustainability of owner-drivers.

"There is no readily available data on the proportion of owner-drivers that are operating profitably, or whether that has changed during the past five years," the paper states.

"As such, it is not possible to determine to what extent the Act has impacted on the viability of owner-driver businesses in the WA road freight industry since 2008."

The trucking industry, which has been given until January 31, 2014 to provide feedback, is being asked if the Act has strengthened the viability of the WA’s road freight industry.

Furthermore, the review wants to know if the Act has had an impact on rates being paid to owner-drivers and whether it has improved safety.

When it was introduced, the Act marked the first time in Australia a framework was introduced to cover safe and sustainable rates for owner-drivers.

It established a code of conduct setting out guideline rates of pay, collective bargaining provisions for owner-drivers, model contracts and how owner-drivers and hirers should interact.

The Road Freight Transport Industry Council and the Road Freight Transport Industry Tribunal were also created under the Act.

The council’s role includes providing advice and recommendations to the transport minister of the day, preparing and reviewing guideline rates, promoting compliance with the code of conduct and developing and publishing model contracts.

The tribunal acts as a low-cost dispute resolution body for owner-drivers and hirers.

"There was a view that the lack of a code of conduct and no provision for collective bargaining led to unfair payment rates and conditions being imposed on owner-drivers by relatively powerful hirers, rather than agreements being negotiated fairly between the parties," the discussion paper says.

The review is asking the industry to give its thoughts on the effectiveness of the council and the tribunal.

The Department of Transport says preliminary discussions with industry have indicated a reference group could be convened as an alternative to the council.

The department will also examine if the federal Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), which is also under review, will have any impact on WA’s tribunal.

It says the RSRT has not been operating long enough to determine what impact it has had on WA.

While similar to the WA system, the RSRT prevails over any state law if inconsistencies arise and has the power to issue road safety remuneration orders and collective agreements throughout the transport supply chain.

"Many Western Australian owner-drivers are able to choose to have their disputes heard by either the Commonwealth or Western Australian Tribunal," the review paper says.

"It is possible that some Western Australian operators may opt to have matters heard by the Commonwealth Tribunal because it provides broader coverage and has stronger powers than the Western Australian Tribunal, particularly businesses in the supply chain."

The Government is required to review the Act five years after its commencement.

Those interested in providing feedback to the review can complete an online survey or email the Department of Transport a completed feedback form, which is attached to the discussion paper.

Stakeholders can also email or post a written statement to the department.


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