Review gives thumbs up to WA owner-drivers' protection system

By: Brad Gardner

A review of the system to protect owner-drivers in Western Australia has recommended it continue with minimal change.

Review gives thumbs up to WA owner-drivers' protection system
Western Australia introduced legislation in 2008 to protect owner-drivers.


Measures introduced in 2008 to ensure owner-drivers in Western Australia are paid fairly should continue to operate, the State’s Department of Transport says.

The government agency’s review of the Owner-Driver (Contracts and Disputes) Act says it is operating effectively and only slight changes need to be made.  

The Act regulates dealings between hirers and owner-drivers and was introduced in response to concerns hirers held too much bargaining power and that low or unsustainable rates of pay undermined road safety.

It outlines measures to prevent owner-drivers from being shortchanged, such as the use of a code of conduct, a tribunal to deal with contract disputes and a council to review guideline pay rates and develop initiatives to aid compliance.

"The review has found that the Act, the council and the tribunal are all meeting their requirements," Department of Transport executive director Brett Hughes says.

"The review has also found that the Act has helped to establish fair and reasonable pay rates for owner drivers and assisted in the resolution of disputes that arise between owner-drivers and those that hire them."

The review found that heavy vehicle crashes have not increased since the introduction of the Act and that the tribunal represents a convenient and low-cost option for owner-drivers to settle contract disputes.

It also found the rate of use of the tribunal has fallen significantly since 2010, leading the Department of Transport to claim the Act has had an impact on establishing safe rates for owner-drivers.

"DoC [Department of Commerce] estimates that the Tribunal has been instrumental in the recovery of more than $400,000 from hirers to be paid to owner-drivers," the review report states.

The Department of Transport has recommended a small change to the structure of the council to increase its independence and ensure it appropriately represents the owner-driver sector.

During the review, the Livestock and Rural Transport Association of WA argued the council did not necessarily represent the interests of regional operators and that its membership should be broadened.

Council members include representatives from the WA Road Transport Association and the Transport Workers Union. WA’s transport minister is responsible for appointing council members.

The review recommends appointing a senior Department of Transport official as council chair and for the transport minister to appoint members that represent and reflect the needs of regional and single vehicle owner-drivers.

Since its inception, the council has developed materials and resources to inform owner-drivers of the Act, guideline pay rates for a range of heavy vehicle combinations and a cost calculator to help owner-drivers develop rates tailored to their specific circumstances.

Despite requests for it to do so, the review opted against recommending stronger compliance and enforcement provisions similar to what is in place for the federal Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT).

It says such a recommendation is unlikely to gain the support of the WA Government or industry because of the regulatory burden it will impose.

"Greater awareness of the Act, however, in particular provisions that require hirers to provide specific information to owner-drivers, may assist to improve compliance rates," the report says.

The review also examined the claims detractors of the Act have made, such as suggesting it could distort market prices, reduce the number of owner-drivers in the industry and lead to union interference in contract negotiations.

"This does not appear to have occurred," the report says.

While saying there is a lack of qualitative data showing what impact the Act has had on road safety and owner-driver viability, the review found that the number of complaints made to the Department of Commerce in relation to owner-driver matters has fallen significantly.

A review of the RSRT was also completed this year but the Federal Government has not yet released the findings or announced if it intends to allow the tribunal to keep operating.  

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