Unlikely allies galvanise for reform

Like many of the state-based road transport associations, the VTA is a proud supporter of the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO), a national industrial body that represents the transport industry and its members before the Fair Work Commission.

ARTIO is the only registered employer organisation assigned solely with the representation of employers and prime contractors in the road transport industry, and for over 30 years ARTIO, in conjunction with its state branches, has represented thousands of members in major federal and state industrial cases.

As national secretary of ARTIO, I was pleased to join a 15-strong delegation of industry representatives in Canberra last month as part of a concerted effort to urge legislators and regulators to enact much-needed transport industry reform.

Our delegation brought together unions, employer representatives, operators, and workers, who are united in our common advocacy and passion for reform, and to establish minimum standards of operation, cost, and people management within the road transport industry.

Reform is an issue you will hear the VTA and other like-minded industry groups talking about often this year, not least because it is so desperately needed, but because with the same political party now in government in every federal, state, and territory jurisdiction everywhere except Tasmania, there is a unique opportunity for consensus that will deliver the reforms we have been advocating for years.

Our Canberra delegation presented to over 40 ministers and members of parliament of every political persuasion to endorse proposed industry reforms that will improve safety and productivity for operators and transport workers.

Much of this was borne out of the excellent work by Western Australia Senator Glenn Sterle, whose 2021 Without Trucks Australia Stops parliamentary report presented 10 recommendations upon which unlikely allies like employer and employee representative groups have galvanized, in the interests of making our industry more viable, safe, sustainable, and efficient.

Of the recommendations in the Sterle report, the VTA particularly welcomed the development of a national apprenticeship scheme to help attract workers to the sector, an expansion to ATSB powers to investigate commercial heavy vehicle road accidents, and the creation of an independent regulator to set minimum commercial vehicle costs.

We also welcomed the report’s recommendation for creating an independent body for setting standards, resolving disputes, and establishing binding payment terms, which our delegation rallied behind in Canberra.

Such a body would go a long way towards ending the rapid degradation and break down of values and working standards that gig economy ‘employers’ have created through their deployment of technology.

While convenient for some, it is undeniable that gig economy platforms and aggregators over time have reduced payment standards, entitlements and allowances for operators and transport workers. Any flexibility benefits espoused by their aggregators of working for these platforms are more than offset by low rates, absence of enshrined leave or superannuation benefits, or any collective representation.

Indeed, our Canberra delegation included gig economy workers and their families, who told stories of genuine hardship and even loss to ministers and parliamentarians, as part of our combined effort to enact reform when legislation is presented later this year.

These platforms represent a genuine risk to legitimate transport operators that have done the right thing by their customers, suppliers, and staff, only to be threatened by a largely faceless aggregator whose algorithms have no respect for the traditions and conventions upon which our industry was built.

And while there may be a place for such businesses in the modern economy, it must not be to the detriment of transport operators and workers, and the minimum standards for safety, productivity, and efficiency they aspire to and deserve.

Now, more than ever, transport customers, operators, workers, representative groups, and even some of the more responsible gig companies are calling for the security of enforceable minimum industry standards.

Our Canberra delegation was united in our efforts to convince parliamentarians to vote in support of legislation later this year that would enshrine this into law. And while this delegation may not aways see eye to eye or agree on every issue, our unity in Canberra and on this critical issue going forward demonstrates how important it is for the legislators and the federal government to act.

  • Peter Anderson is CEO, Victorian Transport Association

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