David Smith, Chair of the Australian Trucking Association comments on the proposed ‘Closing Loopholes’ now before parliament and believes it will deliver fairer trucking contracts.
The Government has now introduced its road transport minimum standards law into parliament. It’s part of what is called the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill, a 284 page package that covers a series of industrial relations issues as well.
The bill and future regulations would enable the Fair Work Commission to issue two new orders.
Road transport minimum standards orders would apply to owner drivers and similar small trucking businesses.
Road transport industry contractual chain orders could apply to the whole contract chain.
One of the ATA’s objectives in our discussions with the Government was to avoid a repeat of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s decision to set minimum rates for owner drivers that were too high for the industry to pay.
The result was that prime contractors and industry customers chose to move their freight in other ways. The bill goes some of the way to addressing this problem. Under the bill, the commission would be required to avoid unreasonable adverse impacts on sustainable competition and compliance costs.
The commission would also be required to have regard to the commercial realities of the road transport industry and that owner drivers have chosen to be contractors not employees.
While these protections are welcome, and a great improvement on the former Road Safety Remuneration Act, they are open to interpretation and may not be enough prevent the adverse impacts of mandatory minimum rates, especially at the individual business level. We think it would be better if the bill prohibited the commission from setting rates, or as an alternative, restricted such orders to the recovery of specific business costs.
Peter Anderson and the team at the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation deserve credit for arguing for these contractual chain orders. The concept recognises that the problems we face go beyond owner drivers and that corporations in the chain need fairer contract terms too.
The bill would also allow the commission to hear unfair contract and termination cases from owner drivers and other small road transport contractors. The minister would be able to make a Road Transport Industry Termination Code to guide businesses.
The commission’s powers to resolve unfair contract disputes would be subject to a high income threshold and would be limited to issues that would be workplace relations matters if the contractor was an employee.
The ATA has welcomed the Government’s decision to restrict the commission from issuing orders about road transport issues covered by the Heavy Vehicle National Law or other laws.
We argued that the commission’s powers needed to be separated from safety regulation, because otherwise the industry would end up facing conflicting or overlapping safety requirements.
The bill includes extensive consultation provisions, including a requirement that road transport minimum standards orders be published 24 months before they come into force. The bill would also put in place a framework for reviewing commission orders.
I’m pleased to say the Government consulted with the industry on the road transport provisions of the bill. During the consultation process, Minister Burke met our representatives in person on three separate occasions. The ATA also worked closely with Minister Burke’s office and his department.
Our policy staff were able to review and comment on the in-confidence exposure draft legislation. It is evident that most of the checks and balances the ATA asked for were included in the bill.
The bill is now being considered by a Senate committee. We made a submission, and we look forward to working with the Government on amendments and the regulations to achieve the best results for our industry.