Federal Government can’t stop minimum rates from going ahead

By: Brad Gardner, Photography by: Brad Gardner

The Federal Government has involved itself in the debate on minimum rates, but its hands are tied.

Federal Government can’t stop minimum rates from going ahead
Federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester wants minimum rates for owner-drivers delayed.


The Federal Government has hitched itself to the bandwagon trying to stall minimum rates for owner-drivers, but it has no power to stop the scheme from going ahead.

It yesterday despatched barrister Chris O’Grady to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s (RSRT) hearing on applications to delay minimum rates.

O’Grady told the tribunal the Government backed the Australian Industry Group’s (Ai Group) recommendation for the start date to be changed from April 4 this year to January 1, 2017 and for the rates to take effect gradually over a 36-month period.

In line with comments from the Ai Group and NatRoad, the Government says the industry is not prepared to comply with the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order, which was announced in December last year.

Owner-drivers will work under employee-like conditions and need to receive set hourly and kilometre payments, unpaid leave and payment for rest breaks, loading and unloading and completing work diary entries.

Parties in the supply chain will need to make sure their contracts contain terms that will ensure owner-drivers receive correct payments.

"The Order reflects a significant and potentially transformative change in the regulation of remuneration in the road transport industry," the Government says in a written submission to the RSRT.

"These changes, by their very nature, require significant time for the industry participants to understand, formulate responses to the regulation imposed by the Order and then implement those responses. It is respectfully submitted that a period of 4 months, part of which fell over the Christmas/New Year period, is insufficient time for this to take place."

The submission goes on to argue that the lack of knowledge and understanding of the order throughout the industry means minimum rates could adversely affect businesses and individuals.

"Any misunderstandings of some aspects of the Order can have a deleterious impact upon participants in the road transport industry," the submission states.

"They may impact decisions made by the suppliers and consumers of road transport services. They may impose significant stress on those who believe they will be adversely affected by the Order."

The Federal Government’s submission was made with the support of employment minister Michaelia Cash and transport minister Darren Chester.

Its submission is about as much as the Government can do on the matter, and its involvement in proceedings yesterday was largely symbolic.

This is because it has no power to intervene directly in the the running of the tribunal, including influencing or quashing its decisions.

"The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is an independent statutory body. The Australian Government cannot influence the outcome of its decisions or prevent it from making orders, or change those orders once they have been made," a spokesperson for the Department of Employment says.

The spokesperson adds that the department or minister do not have the power to apply for an order to be varied because both are not listed as eligible persons to make applications.

The current government is no fan of the RSRT and fought against its establishment in 2012. Then Opposition leader Tony Abbott committed to a review of the tribunal. That review was undertaken in late 2013 and completed in early 2014 but has not been released.

Most recently the Government conducted another review of the RSRT, which includes an analysis of the minimum rates order.

"The Government is carefully considering the findings of both reviews and the views of stakeholders across the industry, including those raised by the New South Wales Business Chamber," the spokesperson says.

Along with NatRoad, the NSW Business Chamber has been agitating for the Government to get involved.

Earlier this month the Business Chamber called for it to "immediately intervene" to delay minimum rates on the basis the scheme was so complex the industry did not have the time or necessary information to prepare for it.


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