Minimum standards are on the way

A soon-to-be-hatched minimum standards’ body and its guiding legislation will not be a repeat of the ill-fated Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), assures Gary Mahon, CEO of the Queensland Trucking Association.

Mahon, who’s had a seat at all the early roundtables on the looming changes, was quick to dispel the commonly held myth that the RSRT was being resurrected by Labor, along with an updated version of its much-maligned 2016 Payment Order that profoundly disadvantaged owner-drivers.

“It is not a mechanism to introduce freight rates,” Mahon told attendees at the recent Trucking Australia conference in a session he co-helmed titled What Minimum Standards Look Like.

Although exact details are still to be hammered out, Mahon said that this time round the industry body would be a division of the Fair Work Commission – rather than a stand-alone entity – with perhaps two or three industry advisory groups appointed to assist commissioners with their decisions.

“What this process is looking to try and do is bring some balance back into the equation, so you’ve got an opportunity to reasonably compete,” he said.

Mahon cited the example of contract negotiations as a prime area where a FWC body could assist in determining what’s reasonable, and what’s not.

“How many of you have been through a contract negotiation in which you have to meet the market?” he asked.

“How many have contracts with continuous improvement provisions in them so every 12 months you have to find something between 3-5 per cent productivity improvement, and this is in an environment with 7 per cent inflation, on average?

“What about discretionary rate reviews? At the discretion of whom?”

Mahon told conference delegates that one large fleet member had told him recently that a client demanded that the operation reduce rates by 3 per cent.

“He was told, ‘If you can, we’ll extend the contract by a year, if you can’t we’ll go back to the market’, and that’s not unusual.”

Mahon also said that it’s essential that every participant  who “exercises economic power” in the supply chain is captured by the new legislation.

That includes freight forwarders and anyone else working in the rapidly emerging gig economy sector.

“There is no point to two or three players being captured by this legislation while the bigger end of town just sits and watches,” added Mahon.

“You’ve got the big end of town continually trying to lower the ceiling and the gig economy working away in competition. If we don’t act there is going to be collision in the middle and this industry is going to hurt a hell of a lot. 

“Every day we are hearing more and more about how gig-type workers are inching their way into this industry. 

“When this happens you’re going to have a competitive environment where you’re the one expected to be buying low carbon vehicles, the best PBS equipment for safety, you’re the one expected to apply all these standards, and employ people under a set of standards, and you’re going to be competing against a group who fundamentally don’t have to adhere to any of those standards at all while  running gear that is 12, 15, 20 years old.”

Mahon told the conference that he believes the minimum standards legislation could be tabled as early as late August, but he doesn’t expect it to come into play until well into next year.

Just a few days before the conference, Mahon joined a 30-strong delegation of truck drivers, rideshare drivers, food delivery riders, transport operators, employers and associations at Parliament House to meet with parliamentarians and call for the passing of transport reform.

Over two days, Mahon’s allies included Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation secretary Peter Anderson, Western Roads Federation CEO Cam Dumesney, major transport operator ACFS CEO Arthur Tzaneros, and TEACHO chair Paul Ryan, along with truckies and and the Transport Workers’ Union.

The delegation shared the urgency of passing “lifesaving reform” to set fair, safe and sustainable standards in transport.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said it is important that politicians hear directly from workers and employers alike about the realities of working in an industry in “crisis”.

“Just this year, transport has suffered devastation after devastation,” said Kaine.

“This year has also seen wealthy supply chain clients reaping enormous half-year profits. These are profits reaped from the razor-thin margins of transport operators, piling deadly pressure on workers and causing thousands to lose their jobs to administration.

Kaine said the transport industry needs safe, fair and sustainable standards to rebalance transport supply chains, ease the pressure and ensure trucking can thrive long into the future.

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