The Federal Government has introduced its long-awaited Safe Rates legislation into the House of Representatives.
The legislation, titled the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011, establishes the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which will have the ability to set pay or pay-related conditions to ensure safe driving practices.
The Government believes that the Tribunal will save lives by ensuring that truck drivers are paid reasonably for the work they do, getting rid of the economic incentive for drivers to take unacceptable risks on our roads.
Around 250 people are killed and more than 1,000 suffer serious injuries on our roads each year in accidents involving trucks. As stated by Ministers Anthony Albanese and Chris Evans in their announcement, truck drivers should not have to speed, overload their trucks, drive excessive hours or cut back on vehicle maintenance to make a decent living.
The introduction of this legislation follows a long-running TWU campaign which resulted in a 2010 report from the National Transport Commission confirming that low rates of pay can lead to risky work practices by drivers to make ends meet. These risky practices include speeding, working long hours and using illicit substances to stay awake.
The truck driving sector continues to have the highest incidence of fatal injuries with 25 deaths per 100,000 workers on the most recent figures – ten times the average for all industries. In 2010, the total cost of heavy vehicle related accidents involving fatalities and serious injuries was $2.7 billion.
The problem is compounded by the extremely competitive nature of the road transport industry where undercutting on rates is common and the absence of an easily accessible national system of regulation of owner driver rates.
The new Tribunal will start work on 1 July, 2012 and will include members from Fair Work Australia along with independent work, health and safety experts.
When the Tribunal determines that a sector of the industry has poor safety outcomes as a result of low remuneration, it will be able to make a Road Safety Remuneration Order to improve the on-road safety outcomes for drivers operating in that sector.
The TWU has been involved in the development of this proposal through its involvement in the Safe Rates Advisory Group which also involved employer representatives.
In general, major road transport employers have been supportive of the concept, as has the Victorian Transport Association.
However, other employer groups such as the Australian Industry Group and major retailers have been predictably hostile. Indications are that the Federal Opposition will find a way to oppose the legislation.
Hence its passage will be dependent on the independents currently holding the balance of power in Canberra.
The Union will be vigorously promoting the legislation to them by stressing that the only people who really benefit from starvation level rates in the road transport industry are the cowboys and fly-by-nighters who specialise in exploitation.
Wayne Mader with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in front of the thankyou card presented to the Gillard Government for the Road Safety Remuneration Bill 2011 by the Newton family – Steve, his wife Eva and their granddaughter Brianna.