ATA and TWU react as parliament passes Closing Loopholes Bill

Parliament has passed new workplace laws, giving the Fair Work Commission the power to issue mandatory orders across the road transport contract chain.  

Under the federal government’s Closing Loopholes Bill, the commission will be able to issue road transport contractual chain orders, which will apply to businesses up and down the chain. 

A contractual chain order will be able to include terms about payment times, fuel levies, rate reviews, termination (including one way termination for convenience) and cost recovery. 

The commission will gain its new powers six months after the bill is signed by the Governor-General. 

ATA chair David Smith said the ATA had worked co-operatively with the Australian government to ensure the commission’s new powers were workable and fair. 

However the ATA has not able to achieve its goal of restricting the commission from setting minimum rates.

“That argument will now need to be put to the commission as it considers applications for orders,” he said. 

“But we were able to secure legislation that will work and that could deliver better contract terms for owner-drivers and trucking businesses.”

The commission will now be required to have regard to the need to avoid adverse impacts on the sustainability, performance and competitiveness of supply chains and the national economy.

“In looking at road transport contractual chain orders, it will also need to have regard to the commercial realities of the road transport industry, including commercial practices in relation to part load, mixed load, no load, multi-leg and return trips,” Smith explained. 

“The bill will require a 12 month notice of intent period for any proposed order. There will be failsafe mechanisms including internal merits review and new rights for the minister or another party to seek a review of an order if significant new facts or evidence come to light.

“Contractual chain orders are intended to ensure that all parties are covered. We cannot afford a situation where some businesses regulated by the commission lose work to businesses that are not.”

He said that importantly, the ATA was able to ensure that the commission will not become “another safety regulator”.

“The commission will not be able to make orders covering matters comprehensively dealt with under the Heavy Vehicle National Law or other relevant laws,” he clarified. 

Meanwhile the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has vowed to tackle the ‘Amazon Effect’ by building on transport industry unanimity to establish fairer, safer standards for transport workers.

The union said it will reconvene industry discussions to ease “deadly exploitation” in the transport gig economy and address unsustainable payment times in the industry, with the aim of making consent applications as soon as standard-setting reform comes into effect.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said: “In transport, exploitation kills. There’s no time to waste to purge the industry of deadly pressures to rush, skip maintenance and stay on the road too long.

“The industry unanimity that achieved transport reform must continue to get safer, fairer standards in place as soon as possible.

“As relentlessly as TWU members worked to win this legislation, we will work even harder with the rest of the industry to use the new powers.

“The Amazon Effect of unchecked supply chain pressure and exploitative gig competition stands no chance against a united industry ready to set enforceable minimum standards.

“Dangerous practices such as elongated payment times that push unsustainable financial risk onto transport operators and owner drivers on wafer-thin margins will be first cab off the rank.”

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