McDonald Murholme Managing Director Alan McDonald says the abolition of the RSRT means there will no longer be a dedicated regulator with the power to handle disputes between drivers and their contractors.
“By abolishing the Tribunal, the issue of safety on the roads and payments of employees by employers will be dependent on negotiations between transport operators and their drivers,” McDonald told HC Online.
“There will be no dedicated regulator where safety and fairness in the road transport industry is required,” he says.
Last December the RSRT approved national minimum payments for long-distance drivers and those drivers involved in the distribution of goods destined for sale or hire by supermarket chains such as Coles
Hailed by unions as a "world first", the ruling ensures drivers are paid for loading and unloading times, including the time spent cleaning, servicing, inspecting and repairing trailers and trucks.
However, the RSRT’s ruling has been met with heavy opposition from industry groups, who say the new pay rates are unworkable and will drive smaller operators out of business.
But if the RSRT is scrapped, Australia’s vital road transport industry will lose an orderly system for regulating the employment standards, McDonald warns.
“Australian employers will be left to their own resources to manage disputes between themselves and their drivers,” McDonald says.
“They need to make their own agreements and to ensure those agreements are workable,”
He says employers will need to be wary that the road transport industry will be opened up to a less controlled and more open competition.
“They will face competition from unscrupulous employers who will be free to engage in unsafe practices to the disadvantage of those transport operators with higher and costlier business models including safer standards and higher paid employees,” McDonald says.
By way of example, McDonald says large trucking companies will often use a smaller family business to deliver an unprofitable load because the smaller family company will be in no position to bargain with the big operator about the payment for the work.
“If the larger company provides a number of jobs and then is late in payments the family company may be forced to give credit which it cannot afford or to become insolvent,” he says.
“The smaller family company may be forced to use family members to deliver an awkward job in unreasonable conditions for a low payment as a result of exploitation,” he says.
“The ACCC has neither the resources nor the legal powers to chase down this anti-competitive and exploitive practice so it will go unanswered.”
Given that the Tribunal was set up to ensure that road safety was not compromised by over working drivers and causing accidents because the drivers were poorly paid and drove too hard for too long, McDonald says its abolition is counter-productive.
“The Tribunal is empowered to inquire into sectors, issues and practices within the road transport industry and, where appropriate, determine mandatory minimum rates of pay and related conditions for employed and self-employed drivers,” he says.
“Every road user will be affected because the risk of poorly paid drivers taking risks will be unregulated,” McDonald says, adding that there will be an increased risk of rogue transport operators on Australia’s roads.
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As the political debate heats up over the future of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, following a controversial decision to establish mandatory minimum rates for owner-driver truck drivers, Australian employers should be mindful that the abolition of the RSRT means they will be left to deal with payment disputes on their own.