Livestock, farming groups back delay to minimum rates for owner-drivers

Photography by: Brad Gardner


ALRTA and Farmers Federation want impending minimum rates scheme delayed.

Livestock, farming groups back delay to minimum rates for owner-drivers
ALRTA president Kevin Keenan says the RSRT's minimum rates scheme will price owner-drivers out of the market.

 

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) has received further calls to stop its plan to introduce minimum rates for owner-drivers next month.

The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA), the National Farmers Federation (NFF) and the Council of Small Business Associations (COSBOA) have jointly written to the tribunal in support of applications to delay or suspend the rates scheme.

NatRoad and the Australian Industry Group want minimum rates delayed until January next year, while the National Road Freighters Association wants an indefinite delay.

The Australian Long Distance Owner Drivers Association has also applied for the scheme to be delayed until October 3 this year, and the RSRT will deal with the applications during a hearing on March 15.

All groups believe the industry needs more time to understand its obligations under the new scheme, but the Transport Workers Union (TWU) says it will oppose any attempt to delay the start date.

The new payments structure is due to start on April 4 to provide minimum hourly and kilometre rates for owner-drivers working in the supermarket distribution and linehaul sectors.

ALRTA national president Kevin Keenan says the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order should be delayed indefinitely or for at least six months.

"There is no doubt that the 2016 order is the most significant regulatory change in decades to impact on owner-drivers and all business that rely on their services," Keenan, himself an owner-driver, says.


"The imposition of minimum rates from April 4, 2016 will immediately price many owner-drivers out of the market. They will lose their regular contracts and find it much harder to pick up small jobs.

"These businesses need more time to work out what the order means for them and, if necessary, exit the industry with some dignity and a chance of avoiding financial ruin."

Similar to comments from NatRoad and the Ai Group, Keenan says not enough information has been provided to answer the industry’s concerns, namely who the order covers and how payments for some loads works.


NFF President Brent Finlay says most farmers using professional transport services remain unaware of the existence of the RSRT or its work.

He says farmers will likely be affected given they use trucking operators.

Finlay says the NFF is concerned there has not been enough effort from the tribunal or the Fair Work Ombudsman, which will enforce minimum rates, to explain what the changes mean for farmers.

He believes farmers will stop using owner-drivers as a result and rely on larger transport firms, which the order does apply to.



"This means less choice, less flexibility and huge flow-on effects for small rural businesses around the country," Finlay says.



COSBOA CEO Peter Strong is critical of the RSRT for issuing an order that applies only to owner-drivers.


"The minimum rates will apply to owner-drivers but larger competitors using employee drivers will remain free to set their own rates," he says.



"This tribunal is clearly seeking to extend the reach of unions and industrial relations laws into independent contracting businesses where they have no place.  The laws appear to be designed to force a structural shift towards larger fleets and a unionised workforce."

The RSRT says the minimum rates scheme is designed to ensure owner-drivers receive enough payment to remain viable and complete their work safely.

A National Transport Commission (NTC) study in 2008 found that low rates of pay in the trucking industry contributed to poor safety outcomes. The report found that owner-drivers were driving for longer in breach of work hours and skimping on vehicle maintenance as a result of payment methods.

A regulatory impact statement issued prior to the establishment of the RSRT revealed that almost 30 per cent of owner-drivers in Australia were being paid less than the minimum wage and that setting minimum payments would likely improve safety.

 

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