Recently, I had the privilege to attend a unique roundtable gathering of industry associations, trade unions, major transport operators, freight customers and academics, for important discussions ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit.
Wearing my Australian Road Transport Industry Organisation (ARTIO) secretary and VTA CEO hats, it was an honour to represent these two key stakeholders on the important issue of minimum standards, and continue our consistent advocacy for a safe, sustainable and fair road transport industry.
In some ways the roundtable was an unlikely gathering of traditional opponents and competitors – rarely do you get groups like Queensland Trucking Association, NatRoad, FBT Transwest, Coles, Woolworths, Uber, Doordash, Linfox, Tolls and the TWU – to name but a few – together in the same room without there being significant points of difference.
But when it comes to attaining safety, sustainability and fairness in road transport, it’s pleasing that we all had a common goal because we understand these things aren’t mutually exclusive, and that they’re vital for Australia’s economic future and the safety of transport workers and road users.
The pandemic has educated Australians about the indispensable nature of road transport supply chains for a functioning society. They now have a better appreciation of the heroic role our industry and its workers have played in recent years.
However, this appreciation doesn’t change the fact that there are unique challenges facing our sector, from road safety risks with potentially fatal consequences for workers, through to competitive pressures that can force transport operators to operate at below cost recovery.
At the same time, the legal framework has not kept pace with changes in the industry including the rise of the on-demand ‘gig’ economy and new types of work arrangements.
The broad, new industry coalition that emerged from the roundtable is now constructively calling for government action through two key Senate inquiries.
The recommendations of the ‘Without Trucks Australia Stops’ Sterle Report and, following the recent findings of the Select Committee on Job Security, agreements reached between unions and on demand platforms, confirm the need for reform for road transport gig economy workers.
We’re calling on the government to ensure road transport participants can operate supply chains that are safe, sustainable and viable; provide operators and online aggregators with regulatory certainty, flexibility and a level playing field; and ensure that transport workers appropriately benefit.
To achieve this, the Commonwealth needs to investigate a range of options, which may include resourcing an independent body to establish and maintain minimum standards by traditional transport operations and emerging gig economy delivery and rideshare transport work, promote best practice supply and contract chain industry standards, resolve disputes, ensure transport workers can access and contribute to an effective collective voice; convene specialist industry advisory groups to provide advice and recommendations; and provide appropriate enforcement to ensure standards and objectives are met.
As I said at the conclusion of the roundtable discussions, transport clients, employers, workers and now even some gig economy disruptors are all calling for the security of enforceable industry standards, with our unity showing how critical it is for the government to act.