Owner-drivers have nothing to fear from Labor, promises Sterle

High-profile truckies’ advocate, WA Senator Glenn Sterle, has vehemently denied that Labor is planning to resurrect a new version of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) this year.

Sterle was reacting to the so-called “leaked document” that the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) had supposedly sighted.

The ALRTA told its members that the existance of the document confirmed Labor is “actively preparing to revive the the powers of the disastrous RSRT abolished in 2016.”

The association also claimed that the leaked document indicates that additional powers will be given to the Fair Work Commission to do much the same job as the former RSRT.

ALRTA president Scott McDonald said it was important not to repeat the mistakes made by the RSRT.

“The RSRT was an absolute disaster for rural trucking. It created a two-tiered freight market in which owner-drivers became uncompetitive and tied up in red tape,” said McDonald.

“Shortly before the 2016 Payments Order came into effect, our member owner-drivers began receiving letters from head contractors advising that their services would no longer be required. Almost immediately, people lost their work. Families lost their businesses. And sadly, some took their own lives.”

Sterle told Big Rigs that he was disappointed to read the recent ALRTA imputations and questioned the existence of the “leaked document”. The ALRTA did not return Big Rigs request for comment.

“We’re not going to stuff up like that again,” Sterle, a former owner-driver himself, told Big Rigs.

“All the way through I’ve not used the words RSRT. Christ Almighty, I put the bloody thing through the ALP Conference that we want some enforceable standards, there’s no secret and I’ve never hidden that for the last four years.

“But whatever we do will be in consultation with the industry. We want to do it properly.”

Sterle got the ball rolling in November last year by convening a consortium of industry heads to be briefed by Employment Minister Tony Burke.

“I went out of my way to ensure Rod Hannifey from the National Road Freighters Association was in the room, and there has been no secret meetings since then.

“The government actually started conversations again with industry this week [February 6-10] about the next tranche of its industrial relations legislation.

“Whatever we do in road transport will be in that but we haven’t sat down with industry yet to nut it all out.”

A spokesman for Minister Burke told Big Rigs that Labor had made commitments at both the election and at the Jobs and Skills Summit for workers who currently have no minimum standards.

“There will be extensive consultation on these measures before we introduce legislation later in the year.”

ALRTA president Scott McDonald.

Meanwhile, McDonald expects that the federal government will listen to association concerns and work constructively to avoid a repeat of the previous debacle.

“While I understand some small operators are struggling, fixing rates is not the answer,” he said.

“Fixed minimum rates cannot take account of different business circumstances and practices such as backloading, part-loading, multi-owner loading, empty running, vehicle modifications, business innovation, debt and complimentary business activities which are an important part of efficient freight movements in the rural sector.

“If someone can perform a task below the minimum rate because it suits their particular business circumstances, they should be allowed to do so.

“Instead, ALRTA would prefer greater focus on practical safety measures, financial education, elimination of sham contracting, maximum payment timeframes and accessible dispute resolution.”

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