Trucking seeks help, but gets silence on minimum rates

By: Steve Skinner


Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal president Jennifer Acton leaves operators with more questions than answers.

Trucking seeks help, but gets silence on minimum rates
ALRTA executive director Mathew Munro was among those whose questions went unanswered at a recent information session on minimum rates for owner-drivers.

 

If you are an owner-driver or trucking company boss scratching your head about the incoming minimum rates regime, you are not alone.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) delivered an order on minimum rates for supermarket distribution and long distance subbies just before Christmas.

But judging by an industry and customer breakfast in Sydney on February 9, some details are as clear as mud to operators, let alone the owner-drivers who have to wade through about 100 pages of often eye-glazing legalese.

Help in making sense of it all is said to be on the way, but at the time of writing there is little plain English guidance on what everyone has to do –with the start date of April 4 looming fast.

During her talk tribunal president Jennifer Acton outlined the bare bones of what was involved.

Owner-drivers (referred to as ‘contractor drivers’ in the RSRT’s minimum rates order) are to be paid per hour and per kilometre depending on what grade of driver they are; whether they are pulling a single trailer, B-double or some other combination (and whether it’s their own); and whether they are driving a rigid or prime mover.

They are to be paid for all forms of work including loading, unloading, queuing, waiting, paperwork, refuelling and mandated rest times of 30 minutes or less.

The backbone of the order is a table of minimum rates based on work by big accounting firm KPMG.

Acton told the gathering the tribunal was intending to publish a payments calculator for the distribution and long distance order "in the coming weeks".

Significantly, Acton said that for interpretation of elements of the order, people should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman, and the FWO contact details were displayed on a screen.

 

QUESTIONS BUT NO ANSWERS

Perhaps someone from the FWO should have been at the breakfast.

That’s because the floor session after Acton’s address started off amiably enough, but degenerated after she told the crowd she couldn’t answer most of the questions.

Russell Tait from agribusiness-based Deniliquin Freighters kicked off, saying "I’m just having trouble understanding some of the stuff".

Tait asked if one of his subbies with a dozen trailers and four trucks – one driven by his son and another occasionally by the subbie himself – was an "owner driver subcontractor" or a "corporation" (which is potentially significant to the order).

Acton referred Tait to look at the relevant definitions, "which are complicated".

"If you are concerned about such a matter you should really seek some advice in respect of it."

Mathew Munro from the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) asked about part loads, mixed loads and multiple hirers.

Acton replied that it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to comment in case she had to preside over such issues in future proceedings of the tribunal, with submissions from all sides.

She said that, secondly, it wasn’t appropriate for her to elaborate on the reasoning of the full bench of the tribunal in its December decision.

"Now I don’t mean to be unhelpful but they’re the constraints that I face," Acton said.

David Horrell, from Brisbane-based East Coast Logistics, asked if each participant in the supply chain was expected to take on additional costs.

Again Acton said she couldn’t answer: "Such matters may come before me for dealing with as part of a dispute" or as part of an application to vary an order.

Paul Pulver from Ron Finemore Transport didn’t get far with a question on whether using a loading agent relieved the company from responsibility over payments; and Jamie Bolton from McColl’s didn’t do any better with a question on how fluctuating fuel prices were factored in to the rates.

 

THINGS GET A LITTLE HEATED

It all got a bit much for Greg Dyer, from Dyers Gippsland Transport, who is also a board member of NatRoad.

"I want to know about the rest breaks, it’s really written badly," said Dyer amongst other comments. "If you can’t answer the question then who can…What do we do to get clarification around these issues in the order?"

Acton responded: "I don’t know if you’re a member of ARTIO (Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation) or the other industrial organisations, I assume you can go to them for advice. I’ve also alerted you to the contact details for the Fair Work Ombudsman."

ARTIO hasn’t got a user-friendly guide on the order yet. Neither could we find one at the time of writing on the websites of Natroad, the Australian Trucking Association, the TWU or even the FWO itself.

However the ALRTA has a guide on its website.

You can read the full story in the March issue of Owner//Driver magazine.

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