The TWU (Vic/Tas Branch) has called for greater rights and protections for owner drivers and supply chain accountability in its submission to a wide-ranging State Government review of laws regulating owner drivers and forestry contractors.
The submission to the Review of the Owner Driver and Forestry Contractors Act 2005 and Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Regulations 2006 (Vic) underlines the importance of providing the highest-level of regulatory protection for owner drivers – many who are vulnerable to exploitation because of the dependent nature of the contractual relationships in which they work.
“This dependence brings with it vulnerability. The necessity for owner drivers to receive a steady stream of work to meet their financial commitment on their truck and, in addition, earn a decent living for themselves and their families places the principal contractor in a very powerful position … and has all the hallmarks of exploitable dependency,” it said.
The submission calls for greater supply chain accountability for payments and conditions and set, enforceable rates and conditions for owner drivers.
The Union also wants greater protections against termination of engagement – with or without notice – to be implemented, along with accessible and enforceable dispute resolution, collective bargaining and action rights, education and training packages.
Other demands include the establishment of a free, quick and easy dispute resolution process capable of making binding decisions.
A special focus of the TWU submission are tipper drivers who, in addition to general owner driver issues, are price-takers who have experienced declining rates over the last decade coupled with increasing overheads. They are often forced to accept significant periods of unpaid waiting times, flat (or ‘all-in’) rates and the threat of having contracts terminated with no or minimal notice and without recourse to challenge termination on the basis of harshness or unfairness.
The TWU believes a code of practice needs to be developed for the excavation industry that eradicates load rates – that encourage some drivers to speed, over load and breach fatigue laws – in preference for hourly rates. A template for engagement between Plant Hirers and tipper drivers would also ensure supply chain accountability and contractual and work security protections by including enforceable penalties for breaches that encourage greater compliance. The TWU has also encouraged the Review to develop an appropriate cost model for the tip industry that determines minimum rates, penalties and allowances
TWU (Vic/Tas Branch) Secretary John Berger said the Union had undertaken a long and sustained campaign for the removal of unnecessary economic demands and pressures through the entire owner driver industry, such as uncertainty regarding rates of pay and working hours, and for the general improvement of what are worsening occupational health and safety issues.
“These pressures often result in the exploitation of hard-working members by unscrupulous operators and hirers and force some drivers into unsafe practices,” John said.
“Some owner drivers, especially tipper drivers, are basically treated like second-class citizens and some have to make the brutal choice between spending money on maintaining trucks or feeding and clothing their children and driving unsafe trucks.
“We hope for the sake of all current and future owner driver members and their families that this Review will ultimately accept our submission and recommend the necessary and much-needed legislative changes.”
The TWU (Vic/Tas Branch) successfully fought for and won the support of the Victorian Government in 2005 when the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act 2005 was introduced for the first time to regulate the relationship between a hirer and contractor in the transport industry.
The Andrews Government ordered the current Review late last year. At the urging of the TWU, the introduction of industry-wide compliance and enforcement arrangements were also asked to be reviewed.