ROAD SAFETY REMUNERATION TRIBUNAL: B-DOUBLE REGULATION
STONE the crows! The government appears intent on abolishing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.[i] The RSRT was established in July 2012 to set minimum pay and conditions for truck drivers, approve collective agreements and resolve disputes, especially situations where a driver was dismissed for refusing unsafe orders. [ii]
It is, according to its author, then transport minister Anthony Albanese, all about protecting self-employed drivers from “the underlying economic factors, which create an incentive for, or encourage, unsafe on-road practices.” Mr Albanese told parliament:
The tribunal will ensure pay and pay related conditions encourage drivers to drive safely, manage their hours and maintain their vehicles. This will benefit the industry and it will benefit the wider community.[iii]
Good-oh, as long as self-employed drivers don’t mind being regulated. According to a contractor’s lobby:
The new tribunal will have the power to set wage and remuneration rates for all truckies, including employees and self-employed drivers. This is a recipe for complete confusion, and a bureaucratic shambles with overlapping authorities trying to work out what’s going on. It’s the Gillard Government again going red-tape mad for the small business sector.” [iv]
Not so, according to the Transport Workers Union, which revels in the regulation, arguing that the Tribunal is a necessary correction to the market power of big companies, like the supermarket chains:
When operators are denied a proper return, let alone a margin that exceeds the cost of capital, operators undercut each other, bid the price of transport down, and attempt to recoup the losses caused by clients from drivers by not paying for all work performed; and by paying them through incentive rates. As a consequence of employment too often being conditional on strict compliance with an operator’s direction and client deadlines, drivers are prone to drive while fatigued, speed, take drugs and skimp on maintenance [v]
Regulating contract rates takes the free out of free enterprise and subjects independent workers to whatever terms are set in a tribunal where the union can seek to speak for all workers. This has, of course, nothing to do with the TWU’s concerns. Nor does the Tribunal’s purpose seem to see anything unethical about an arrangement designed to reward people for not breaking the law.
All that aside, what intrigues the Crows is what the Tribunal is intended to do in detail and who is appointed to do it.
As to activity, it does not appear Tribunal staff need apply to Fair Work Australia for relief from overwork – the RSRT website has a great many references to procedural matters and information from other regulators.[vi] But those looking for a Harvester Judgement for the twenty-first century will google in vain.
As for the rulings on specific cases that are the stuff of industrial law, the Tribunal does not seem stretched. According to the March quarter report (the latest on the website), there were four applications for an order under the Act – and no activity at all in the 25 other work categories.[vii] But the big deal, to date, is the draft order issued on July 13, which sets out working conditions in detail.[viii] Certainly, enough detail to gladden the heart of industrial lawyers and union officials who yearn for the days when arbitration quasi courts used employment law to regulate the economy. And keep comrades employed.
Members of the RSRT include Fair Work Australia judges plus industry association representatives and former NSW Labor senator and TWU official Steve Hutchins. As far as the Crows can tell, about the only member of the tribunal with extensive experience driving trucks or managing people who do, is Tim Squires from the Queensland Trucking Association.[ix]
The Crows do not doubt that the RSRT has worked faithfully to fulfil its task but the fact that the TWU is so pleased with its appointment may concern transport operators and the companies in the national logistics chain. According to the union’s then acting national secretary Michael Kaine:
The TWU has every confidence that the tribunal members appointed by the government will begin immediately to tackle the serious problems in road transport as a result of the pressures from major transport clients. We look forward to the tribunal taking the pressure out of the truck cab and making our roads safer for all Australians.”[x]
Good oh, but doesn’t the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which has bipartisan support do this? [xi] Looks like it to the Crows. The NHVR runs national heavy vehicles accreditation and performance standards across the country and is charged with delivering safer operations. And funnily, enough it does not mention setting pay rates.[xii]
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[i] Jason Murphy, “Coalition set to axe truck drivers tribunal,” Australian Financial Review, September 23
[v] “Letter from Tony Sheldon,” Australian Financial Review, September 27
[ix] for tribunal members see Bill Shorten and Jacinta Collins, “National road safety tribunal to improve safety for Australian road users,” Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, June 30 2012 @ http://goo.gl/K6Y5tG recovered on September 28