LDA president: Delay RSRT, don't abolish

By: Anjali Behl

Brian Turpie says NHVR cannot replace the RSRT's compliance and enforcement tasks as effectively

LDA president: Delay RSRT, don't abolish
LDA president Brian Turpie says if the Parliament decides to terminate the tribunal, hirers will continue to shrug their responsibilities and “the carnage will continue”.


Longhaul Drivers Association (LDA) president Brian Turpie suggests pushing the start date of the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016 (RSRO) to January next year will be a better idea than axing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) altogether.

Speaking to ATN, Turpie says the transport industry system is in need of an overhaul to reduce pressure on drivers and promote pay equality within the sector and the ‘safe rates’ order has the potential to bring about those changes.

Turpie, a former owner-driver, says the industry was not sustainable in the way it was before the RSRO was put in force.

He criticises politicians for snowballing the issue to justify their views and fanning misinformation in the industry.

He says independent senator Glenn Lazarus has spoken about worker safety in the construction industry while "ignoring" the plight of drivers in the freight transport sector.

"How can you say that safety in the construction industry is of utmost importance while transport industry, which shares the basic infrastructure – roads – with other drivers, does not need an overhauling?

"Being in this industry for 43 years, I’ve lived this life and understand the pressures that drivers go through."

"Truck drivers form one of most grossly underpaid communities in Australia.

"They are forced to work long hours to support their families and still many of them make barely enough to keep the heads above the water."

Before RSRO came into force, drivers were paid for the number of hours they were on the road, while other duties such as loading, unloading, maintenance hours and other off road tasks remained unrecorded, but all these jobs take time and energy that is not reflected in their pay checks, Turpie explains.

As a result drivers have to cut corners to make on-time delivery before picking up another job.

"Unfortunately, this means that sometimes they forgo maintenance work on their vehicles, don’t take proper rest between jobs and take stimulants to keep themselves awake just to finish jobs in a reasonable amount of time to get back to their families.

"It’s the industry that puts pressure on drivers and RSRT can bring about compliance changes within the industry to fix this problem.

"If drivers are paid the set minimum rate and under 30 days, they will have time to relax between jobs and not take safety risks."

He criticises politicians including employment minister Michaelia Cash for stating that the tribunal was a result of a trade off deal between the Gillard Government and the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

The tribunal was set up following a recommendation by the National Transport Commission based on its 2008 inquiry that linked road safety with driver remuneration, he explains.

"It was set up following a democratic and legal process."

Turpie was part of the discussion, which included industry bodies, Union members and other relevant stakeholders, leading up to the formation of the RSRT and the need for a minimum pay order for contractor drivers.

Turpie accuses big transport companies like Toll and Linfox for "cynical manoeuvres" including switching sides to avoid being on the losers’ side once the parliamentary decision is out.

He is also critical of politicians and industry bodies that recommend that the tribunal’s tasks should be handed over the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR).

"The NHVR has traditionally looked at the technical side of the industry and it is already swamped with work; it will not be able to deal with compliance issues as effectively as the RSRT."

Moreover, considering the government and industry bodies are seeking to abolish the tribunal on the principle ground that setting up minimum pay rates will driver thousands of small transporters out of business, it is highly unlikely that the NHVR will be authorised to oversee the pay issue, he says.

Opposing the opposers

Turpie rubbishes claims that small transporters and owner drivers will be driven out of business as a result of this scheme on the grounds that other industries are dependent on transporters to move freight from one place to the other – something that will not stop.

"Freight will continue to move. There are farmers who depend on transporters to haul their produce to the stores.

"If transporters say they will be driven out of business then who’s going to do their job?"

Turpie says that bigger companies like Toll and Linfox are also dependant on contractor drivers because they do not own enough trucks or employ as many drivers to make up for the loss of thousands of hirers.

Bigger transporters cannot suddenly make up for the loss of thousands of small businesses because even they have finite resources, he adds.

Many business owners, who have claimed that they could be priced out of the industry, "have margins to accommodate the minimum pay rate for drivers".

"The issue is not that they cannot, it is that they don’t want to."

Turpie says that even is the supply chain industry does not increase the price paid to hirers, a majority of them can still afford to increase the wages of drivers.

While the ones who are running on dangerously low margins already run the risk of going out of business, he says.

Turpie is perplexed by owner drivers who oppose the minimum rates order.

"Why wouldn’t anyone want to be paid more for the job that they currently do for less money?"

While he does not entirely concur with the argument made by many small business owners that they were not informed about the new rules, he says it is better to delay the Order than to eliminate it.

He blames owner drivers for their ignorance in the matter and says if they had acted on time and made an effort to understand the full effects of RSRO, there wouldn’t be such an outrage at the last minute.

"They had time to analyse it [RSRO], but didn’t; they were told about it but just chose to ignore until the last minute."

With the government proposing to abolish the tribunal and repeal the Road Safety Remuneration Act 2012, Turpie says he is in favour of giving the industry more time to analyse and thresh out a middle of the road agreement to this issue instead of brushing it aside with little understanding of its causes and effects.

If the Parliament decides to terminate the tribunal, hirers will continue to shrug their responsibilities and "the carnage will continue".

The Coalition government today tabled two bills – the first proposing to abolish RSRT and the second to delay the implementation of the Order to January next year.


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