TWU slams ASBFEO probe into RSRT

TWU says move is a waste as Carnell also looks to tribunal preparedness of small businesses

TWU slams ASBFEO probe into RSRT
Kate Carnell wants to strengthen small business’s hand before tribunals.


The Transport Workers Union (TWU) is less than impressed after it was announced the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) will investigate the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s (RSRT) payments order’s impact on small business owner-drivers.

ASBFEO Kate Carnell has also moved to look at strengthening the position of small businesses when they interact with official bodies, including tribunals, before their creation and during their operation.

"The anecdotal evidence we’re hearing of the financial difficulties small businesses continue to face as a result of the payments order is extremely concerning, so a formal investigation into the extent of the impact is certainly warranted," Carnell says.

The inquiry will consult broadly with stakeholders to establish exactly how widespread situations of financial hardship are across the sector.

"Some owner-drivers are saying the battle to stay afloat has only just begun, as they struggle to stay on the road and try and re-coup the income they were forced to forgo during the weeks of uncertainty triggered by the RSRT, so we’ll be looking for feedback to determine just how prevalent these sorts of cases are," Carnell says.

She is particularly interested in hearing from small businesses who have been subjected to heavy-handed practices from creditors.

"I’ve been made aware of instances whereby people have resorted to borrowing money from family members in order to stay on top of their payments," Carnell says.

"I once again encourage all creditors, including suppliers, banks and other financial institutions, to show some leniency towards owner-driver small businesspeople who may be struggling financially due to the recent upheaval."

Further particulars on the inquiry including submission details and reporting dates will be announced shortly. 

Still smarting from the RSRT’s abolition, the TWU criticised the announcement as a waste of resources, saying ASBFEO should investigate low pay and the high number of insolvencies among owner drivers and small transport operators.

It says the latest Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) figures on insolvencies show 275 small transport operators of five employees or less were forced out of business; in the year to June 2014 there were 548 bankruptcies.

"It is an appalling waste of taxpayers’ money to conduct an inquiry into the impact of an Order which was in operation for two weeks while hundreds of small transport operators struggle each year to keep going on tight margins. It is an affront to these operators that the supposedly independent Ombudsman is engaging in politicised attacks on owner drivers fighting for safe minimum rates," TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon says.

"Away from the political sideshow there are real issues in trucking that need to be addressed: the highest workplace deaths of any profession, chronic fatigue, stress, mental health problems and among the highest suicides and bankruptcies.

"I am demanding that the government end its war on the trucking community and deal with these issues now."

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, small business minister Kelly O’Dwyer and employment minister Michaelia Cash say many owner-drivers "are receiving default notices from their banks, financiers and suppliers, despite the government’s action to abolish the tribunal.

"Some are agreeing to extend a grace period to these small businesses, however many are not."

On the ASBFEO probe, they say it will investigate the period leading up to the commencement of the payments order, through to its abolition and the impact on those affected by the tribunal’s decision.

"The inquiry will that ensure owner-drivers who may be subject to unfair practices from lenders, financiers and others, who extend credit to them, have an opportunity to raise these concerns with the government agency that is best able to assist them," the ministers say.

ASBFEO will "also be available to provide direct practical assistance to businesses that are under pressure and need help".



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