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Warren Clark

Mandating safe rates:  no model for the future

April 2018

NatRoad has told a Senate inquiry that regulating owner-driver pay rates should be firmly rejected from any future planning for the road transport industry.

The Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers is investigating the impact of technological and other change on the future of work and workers in Australia, and is to report its findings on or before 21 June 2018. The Committee received nearly 100 submissions on the important issues that it is considering, which include the future earnings, job security, employment status and working patterns of Australians.

NatRoad provided the Senate inquiry with a submission that sets out the dire consequences of regulating owner-driver pay rates, emphasising our concern that the issue of so-called ‘safe rates’ models may receive credence when this model is discredited. NatRoad opposes legislating rates for owner-drivers or any other contractor now or in the future.

NatRoad told the Senate Committee that the establishment of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) in 2012 was intended to promote safety in the road transport industry. However, this reform was based on an unproven link between setting mandatory minimum freight rates and improving road safety. Unsurprisingly, the intended goal was not achieved.

In fact, the very opposite occurred, because the complex and controversial workings of the RSRT diverted owner-driver and others’ attention away from the developments in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). Diverting this is concerning, given the primary instrument governing road regulation and safety, and the legislative scheme under which the highly appropriate Chain of Responsibility (CoR) reforms are being introduced. It is CoR reforms that NatRoad also believes will assist with reducing the road toll, which spiked in 2017.
Not surprisingly, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) provided material to the inquiry that puts up the New South Wales General Carriers Contract Determination (GCCD) as an appropriate model for regulating owner-drivers. The record had to be set straight. That model is antiquated, broken and represents poor regulation by any standard.

There is no necessity for the GCCD. Its usefulness is unproven and, despite being in existence for more than three decades, it has essentially operated in the breach. Its application is complex and confusing, and it undermines productivity by fostering misunderstanding among transport operators within and outside New South Wales. The TWU is wrong in commending its operation to the Senate Committee, let alone in painting it as a beacon for the future. NatRoad has the GCCD firmly in its sights as misplaced red tape that is increasingly irrelevant to the transport task.
Many commentators predict that the freight task will be dominated by autonomous vehicles, that they are close to transforming the industry. But in the Senate submission NatRoad has warned that in the transition to higher levels of automation, heavy vehicle drivers will need to maintain their driving skills. It will be important, particularly at conditional automation, that the driver remains alert and ready to take over the dynamic driving task. The lead-in period for the introduction of fully autonomous heavy vehicles is likely to be far greater than is predicted by some commentators and is heavily dependent on infrastructure improvements.

NatRoad considers that enhanced legal responsibility along the supply chain for safety outcomes is a reform that will be central to enhancing the protection of workers. It is CoR laws that will shape the industry’s future, rather than reliance on ‘safe rates’.

The NatRoad submission also outlined the NatRoad view of the impact of a move to more autonomous vehicles, explains why regulating owner-driver rates at the federal level should never be considered again and highlights the benefits of the soon-to-be-introduced reforms of the CoR laws.

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