TWU calls ASBFEO inquiry a waste

Union says Ombudsman inquiry is 'waste' of taxpayers' money, ASBFEO says TWU is trying to 'trivialise' road safety

TWU calls ASBFEO inquiry a waste
ASBFEO Kate Carnell says the inquiry report is based on thorough investigation.


Over a month after Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell’s office published its inquiry report into the effects of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has called it "utterly bogus".

Pointing to the expense of the exercise that included public sessions to discuss the impact of the tribunal’s Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO) on small businesses, the union says it was a "waste" of taxpayers’ money – a statement rubbished the Ombudsman.

ASBFEO Kate Carnell says the union is trying to "trivialise" the subject of road safety through such claims.

"Rather than focus on the seriousness of the issue and be a part of the solution, the TWU seem determined to make road safety a political football," Carnell says.

"Safety on our roads is everyone’s responsibility; it is far too serious to be used as a way of scoring cheap political points."

The union obtained the cost breakdown of the ASBFEO report under a freedom of information request, which reveals that the Ombudsman office spent around $37,000 on nine public sessions during the course of its inquiry.

"These documents reveal an interesting point about the Ombudsman’s report: the sole basis for the report was the public sessions, where anyone could turn up and voice their opinion," TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon says.

"No money was spent gathering facts detailing the actual financial impact of the Order.

"The report itself admits that and also admits few truck drivers attended these sessions.

"To say this report is unscientific and a waste of money is a gross understatement."

The cost breakdown shows out of the $37,000, over $15,000 was spent on promoting and advertising the sessions, over $15,000 on flights, accommodation and meals for Ombudsman officials attending the sessions, $4,000 on catering at the sessions, and $1,700 on venue hire.

Carnell says her office did not pursue extravagance during these meetings and the reason her team carried out the meetings at various venues across the country was to help those affected by the order to participate in the sessions without having the need to travel to Canberra.

"Many of those affected by the Order were struggling to make ends meet so instead of asking them to come to us in Canberra, it seemed only fair we went out to them and held meetings in various locations to ensure they had the opportunity to share their story with us and have their voices heard," she says.

"These forums were held in sporting clubs and RSL’s with a few sandwiches and sausage rolls for those who took part; hardly an extravagance."

Sheldon also accuses the Ombudsman for not taking steps to obtain "any other kind of information" to verify public statements.

Pointing to a section of the report that states it "may be difficult to gather factual evidence to show the extent that financial difficulties are attributable to the Payments Order [RSRO]", Sheldon says the ASBFEO report was based on "opinions" instead of facts and hence reflected a skewed picture.

TWU also highlights that the sessions were attended by only a "small number of truck drivers", a statement corroborated by the report, to prove that the findings reflect a lopsided view.

Carnell says her office conducted a "thorough investigation" into the impact the order on small business owners.

"This included holding an industry-wide roundtable, face-to-face interviews with affected drivers, along with receiving numerous emails, phone calls and surveys from owner-drivers, some of whom were on the brink of losing their business as a result of the Order," she says.

"The accounts we heard from owner-drivers who’d been impacted by the Order were truly heart-breaking; lost contracts, failed payments, looming bankruptcy, some even contemplated taking their own lives after the Order compounded what was already a difficult situation for them – you can’t get more factual than that.

"While the Order was only in place for two weeks, its ramifications continue today. 

"Some have been unable to recoup the money lost, while others simply have been unable to pick up the work they missed out on during the fortnight the Order was in place; this has all placed significant pressure, not just on their businesses, but their families as well.

"Ultimately the Order was found to cause significant financial and emotional distress for owner-operators, who were the only ones bound by the minimum rates of pay the Order dictated. 

"These rates did not apply to big business logistics companies with employed drivers; any reasonable person could accept that is unfair."

Although the two sides are in favour of a mandatory 30-day payment rule in the trucking sector, there has been some disagreement over the issue in the recent past, with the union accusing Carnell of siding with the opposition to "demonise" a system that could have brought about this change.

"The Ombudsman Kate Carnell helped destroy a system that was aiming to stop the carnage on the roads by ensuring an end to pressure on drivers to speed, drive long hours, skip breaks and overload their vehicles.

"The system also guaranteed drivers payment for work within 30 days.

"Ms Carnell then spent thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money on a report trying to demonise that system.

"But it has failed because her report is utterly bogus."                                             

Reiterating the validity of the report, Carnell says the inquiry found "no proof that owner-operators are less safe than employed drivers. 

"In actual fact, evidence shows the number of accidents involving trucks has declined, and many of the accidents that do happen, are the fault of motor vehicles."

Sheldon also criticises the report for attributing the suicide of a Queensland truck driver to the pressure created by the RSRO "without any evidence linking the two".

"Given the high suicide rate and mental health problems among truck drivers it is a particularly cynical move to attribute the two-week rates order to a specific suicide or suicides without any basis," he says.

"There is real pressure on truck drivers and much of that stems from the poor rates they are forced to subsist on.

"The order was trying to tackle this and it is a shameful thing that an Ombudsman tasked with independently representing small transport businesses failed to do her job in this regard."

The Ombudsman says attempts by the union to diminish the importance of road safety to a "mud-slinging exercise are disappointing, but sadly typical of the union’s tactics regarding RSRT".



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