Reform or abolish the road safety tribunal – what's the answer?

Reform or abolish road safety

Two of the heavy haulage industry’s peak bodies have openly called for the eradication of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which was established in 2012 to circumvent unsafe remuneration pressures placed on road transport drivers.

As part of this campaign, the Australian Trucking Association will lead a convoy to Canberra, which includes the Australian Logistics Council and other industry representatives.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and its orders have come under fire in recent months, with industry bodies and government representatives taking various stances.

Several prominent government officials have supported the abolition including: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester and Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie.

The current Australian Coalition Government is backing abolition recommendations and will introduce legislation to dissolve the tribunal in mid to late April.

According to Turnbull, the Government plans to redirect allocated tribunal funding to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which will have its powers expanded to implement practical safety measures in the transport sector Australia-wide.

However, getting the senate to pass the bill was far from a done deal. Turnbull recently told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he fears the Coalition Government would not get the numbers to pass the bill when it is introduced.

Various alternatives to the tribunal have been bandied about included the Government’s idea of expanding the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s powers and funding to include uniform road safety and remuneration.

Transport Workers Union

The Transport Workers Union has publicly stated abolishing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is not the answer to the heavy vehicle sector’s problems.

Many union members have requested the tribunal remains in place.

Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the transport industry required change to effectively reduce ongoing problems with high workplace fatalities, chronic fatigue and bankruptcy. But abolishing the tribunal was not the way forward.

New South Wales-based owner driver Ray Childs said New South Wales has had a minimum rate for 30 years and he believes it has improved the industry.

“Minimum rates need to apply nationally to lift standards and ensure people can pay themselves and wage and pay their overheads. Otherwise you get a race to the bottom and safety is sacrificed,” Childs added.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Report

In January this year, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) published a Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System. The report concluded the tribunal was inefficient and overlapped with pre-existing agencies causing confusion for the industry. It also revealed the tribunal’s much debated Road Transport Order and Payments Order will cost Australia’s economy more than $2 billion during the next 15 years.

“Our analysis of the costs and benefits of the system suggest that there will be a significant cost to the economy when both Road Safety Remuneration Orders are in effect, with any potential safety benefits significantly outweighed by the associated costs,” PwC stated in its review.

PwC’s research also showed the tribunal merely duplicated what other regulatory transport agencies’ policies including the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and various state road authorities and workplace safety organisations. PwC concluded that the tribunal, in its current state, held little benefit for the sector and Australian economy.

Convoy to Canberra

The Australian Trucking Association plans to lead a convoy of industry representatives that will make its way to Canberra on Monday, 18 April 2016. The convoy is asking the Australian Government to eradicate the tribunal and rescind the new Contract Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016 (RSRO).

Australian Trucking Association chief executive officer Christopher Melham said the RSRO would have a “devastating” impact on thousands of small operators across Australia.

Melham added dissolving the tribunal would be a positive step for the trucking sector. He said the Government would still need to address the minimum payment concerns for small operators. He suggested this could be carried out by developing a mandatory code of conduct under the Competition and Consumer Act.

“A mandatory code of conduct would apply to all industry participants, not just a specific segment of the industry. These codes of conduct are legally binding – the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has the power to enforce a code, impose penalties, and follow up complaints.

“There are already five mandatory codes regulated by the ACCC, including ones covering the horticulture and franchising industries and bulk wheat. Adding another code to cover the trucking industry would be a logical and effective way to address market power issues affecting small operators.”

Melham said the first step towards practical reform would be for the Government to engage with industry. He added the Australian Trucking Association is ready to liaise with the Government to develop a draft mandatory code of conduct for consideration.

“There has been some discussion that the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) could be involved in this space. However, it is a safety regulator, not a competition policy regulator. Australia already has an expert competition policy regulator through the ACCC; there is no need to invest the NHVR with overlapping sector-specific powers over competition issues.”

Australian Logistics Council Recommendations

Meanwhile, the Australian Logistics Council will be part of the convoy to parliament and has made its own recommendations for improving heavy vehicle safety.

Australian Logistics Council managing director Michael Kilgariff said the Government needed to redirect its funding to more appropriate bodies to ensure effective safety and compliance processes are put in place.

According to Kilgariff, improved safety in the heavy vehicle industry is dependent on achieving great compliance and enforcement of responsibility throughout the entire supply chain.

Kilgariff said the Australian parliament needs to work with industry to focus on putting in place practical safety measures such as on-board technologies.

One of the recommendations for improved safety the Australian Logistics Council has made is mandatory introduction of telematics technology in all heavy vehicles. Telematics technology has been proven to improve safety, efficiency and compliance.

“The introduction of mandatory telematics would have far superior results to an industrially-focussed body responsible for setting remuneration in the heavy vehicle industry,” Kilgariff said.

“We will continue to make this point to all transport and infrastructure ministers, particularly as federal MPs and senators debate the future of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal next week.

“There needs to be greater effort by all stakeholders to promote understanding and compliance with chain of responsibility obligations, which is invariably ignored by proponents of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal,” he concluded.

Kilgariff said the Australian Logistics Council is committed to improving road safety, but “an industrially focussed tribunal responsible for rate setting is definitely not the mechanism to achieve this safety objective”.

He added that the multitude of objections to the new Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order has highlighted the practical difficulties with using payment rate setting as a safety mechanism.

“The abolition of the tribunal is the only real way to avoid the duplication, confusion and costs that this order, and others like it, will inevitably create,” he said.

While there is no single solution to problems the heavy haulage sector faces, National Heavy Haulage remains aware of all developments. National Heavy Haulage is also highly committed to safety and this is backed by the company’s unblemished safety record.

If you need quality, reliable and safe haulage solutions, National Heavy Haulage is the answer. Call us today: 1300 79 22 49

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