The last weekend has been an eventful one for the Australian trucking industry, with the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s (RSRT) much-criticised minimum payment scheme being stopped less than 48 hours before it was supposed to come into effect.
After a heated debate over the Easter break, it seemed like the RSRT’s intricately named Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO) would come into effect as planned when Australia closed for business last Friday, with the Tribunal stating it would not to agree to a delay.
A last minute appeal by NatRoad to the Federal Court in Brisbane, however, still managed to stop the Order from going ahead, with the Court formally granting a stay of the Order until further notice.
“This means that the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments RSRO that was to apply to tens of thousands of contractor drivers across Australia from 4 April will not commence until further order of the Court,” NatRoad announced Friday evening.
This week, Employment Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash, now followed up with an announcement that the Government will be introducing legislation to ensure that orders setting mandatory remuneration rates for truck drivers cannot commence before 1 January 2017.
Minister Cash said the new legislation, if passed by the Senate, will provide certainty for the trucking industry while reform options for the Road Safety Remuneration system are considered by the Government.
She explained, “Today I also announce that given the urgency of this matter, consultations with key industry stakeholders for reform options for the system will commence this week.
“This is a priority for the Government as owner-drivers are the lifeblood of the economy. Anything which threatens their viability will have significant implications across the country – this is not something we will tolerate.
“If the payments order was to come into effect as planned it would be devastating for thousands of owner-drivers and consumers alike.”
What also became clear over the course of last weekend and during the following debate was that industry will use the delay to lobby for the abolishment of the RSRT itself.
Responding to new reports by PwC and Jaguar Consulting that assess the impact of the RSRO on the Australian economy, ATA Chair Noelene Watson said the Tribunal failed to have any appreciable impact on road safety.
“In particular, the Jaguar Consulting report points out that the tribunal’s prescriptive approach is at odds with the best practice general duties approach to heavy vehicle safety recently agreed to by transport ministers following advice from the ATA,” she explained.
“Until now, the ATA has had no mandate to be involved in the Tribunal. However, the definitive findings of [the new] reports make it clear that the Act and Tribunal are a threat to the viability of more than 20,000 small trucking operators, and to our economy generally.”
The Australian Logistics Council’s (ALC) Managing Director, Michael Kilgariff, had made the same call last week, stating “the abolition of the RSRT is the only real way to avoid the duplication, confusion and costs that this order, and others like it, will inevitably create.
“The ALC believes the best way to achieve safety improvements in the heavy vehicle industry is through achieving greater compliance and enforcement of Chain of Responsibility (part of the Heavy Vehicle National Law, ed.).”