A new bill introduced into federal parliament on Monday (September 4) will deliver fairer contracts for all trucking businesses, believes the Australian Trucking Association (ATA).
ATA chair David Smith said the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, and future regulations, would enable the Fair Work Commission to issue two new orders.
Firstly, road transport minimum standards orders would apply to owner-drivers and similar small trucking businesses, and secondly, road transport industry contractual chain orders could apply to the whole contract chain.
“One of the ATA’s objectives in our discussions with the government was to avoid a repeat of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s decision to set minimum rates for owner-drivers that were too high for the industry to pay,” Smith said.
“The result was that prime contractors and industry customers chose to move their freight in other ways.”
Under this bill, Smith said the commission would be required to avoid unreasonable adverse impacts on sustainable competition and compliance costs.
The commission would also be required to have regard to the commercial realities of the road transport industry and that owner-drivers have chosen to be contractors not employees, he said.
“The commission’s potential power to make contractual chain orders could enable it to stamp out unfair contract terms including excessively long payment times, unfair rate review and fuel levy clauses, and one-way terminations for convenience.
“The bill would also allow the commission to hear unfair contract and termination cases from owner drivers and other small road transport contractors. The minister would be able to make a Road Transport Industry Termination Code to guide businesses. The commission’s powers to resolve unfair contract disputes would be subject to a high income threshold.”
Smith welcomed the government’s decision to restrict the commission from issuing orders about road transport issues covered by the Heavy Vehicle National Law, or other laws.
“We argued that the commission’s powers needed to be separated from safety regulation, because otherwise the industry would end up with conflicting safety requirements,” he said.
Smith said the bill included extensive consultation provisions, including a requirement that road transport minimum standards orders be published for a period of time before they come into force. The period set out in the bill is 24 months.
“As introduced, the bill would also enable the government to make regulations for road transport orders to be internally reviewed,” he said.
Smith, who runs the family-owned D&S Smith Haulage in SA, said there are still issues to be resolved with the bill and the regulations that will underpin the commission’s extended role.
“We look forward to making a submission to the Senate inquiry into the bill and to working with the government on Senate amendments and the regulations.”
WA Labor Senato Glenn Sterle, himself a former truckie, said he is proud to be a part of a government that has brought industry and drivers together to help develop these important road transport reforms.
“This ground-breaking, once in a lifetime reform is long overdue,” Sterle said.
“The former coalition government tore down the RSRT and shamefully left nothing in its place.
“The relentless squeeze from the top of the supply chain must end. Industry can’t afford to keep seeing companies go into receivership or lose drivers when we are already struggling to attract more to the industry.”
Former owner-driver Gordon Mackinlay, a board member of the National Road Freighters Association, said the proposed law has the potential to make trucking a viable career again.
“In 2016, I was one of the owner-drivers leading a convoy to Canberra to get the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal abolished,” Mackinlay said.
“Since then, our industry has been overlooked and things have got worse. In 2019, I sold my trucks after realising I would be better off in my former trade as a mechanic.
“It’s great to see that this legislation has considered the concerns of the entire industry while also learning from mistakes of the past to ensure the success of this system long into the future.”
NatRoad CEO Warren Clark said this reform will give operators the confidence of fair contract terms to invest in equipment, recruit drivers, and get on with the job safely and sustainably.
“Our industry is at a critical point,” Clark said.
“We need change that bolsters our viability, builds productivity and enhances safety for everyone.
“We can’t keep losing hundreds of businesses annually under the tough economic conditions that have permeated the industry for years.”
Big Rigs understands that debate on the proposed bill will begin in the House of Representatives from Tuesday, September 5.