: On the road to recovery

On the road to recovery

Linda Tucker
New South Wales

In June and July 2013, Australia’s new Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal sat in Sydney to hear from interested parties on the creation of a Road Safety Remuneration Order. Its aim is to require all parties in the supply chain to address conditions that make the road transport industry in Australia so unsafe.

Financial pressures imposed by clients at the top of the road transport supply chain have been identified in multiple judicial, academic, parliamentary and coronial inquiries as the major factor in dangerous road transport driving practices. In response, Australia now has world first legislation — the Road Safety Remuneration Act 2012 (Cth) (‘RSR Act’) — which enables the making of Orders, among other things, by the Tribunal to address these pressures.

The Tribunal began operation on 1 July 2012 and is an independent body established pursuant to the RSR Act. Its members are drawn from the Fair Work Commission along with business and industry representatives. The objects of the RSR Act require the Tribunal to promote safety and fairness in the road transport industry and are premised on acknowledgement of the remuneration-related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices (s 3(a)-(b)).

The Tribunal has conducted hearings and conferences and the Members have undertaken direct consultation with drivers at roadhouses and other transport venues around the country. The Tribunal has also called for draft Orders and submissions to be filed as part of its inquiry into the industry.

The submissions describe the conditions that have led to the Tribunal’s establishment. Supply chain pressures are aggravated in road transport where the market concentration of power, especially in sectors such as retail, enables clients to determine the rates and conditions that exist throughout the chain. A contract with only marginal returns may get passed down the chain via sub-contracting arrangements until taken on by an operator that will be prepared to breach industrial and road safety laws to make a profit. Over the past two decades this development in the logistics industry has made it increasingly difficult for regulation to keep pace.

While existing regulatory systems can deal with the symptoms of supply chain pressures, the core of the RSR Act is acknowledgement that addressing the causes requires an ability to regulate those agents in the chain with the power to determine the terms and conditions that will underlie each successive transaction in the consignment of freight on our roads.

The Tribunal’s capacity to extend safe rates obligations to the client at the top of the supply chain distinguishes it from existing regimes which are directed towards deterring unsafe driving practices predominantly through reactive, post-breach enforcement activity.

The Tribunal has now issued a draft Order with a four-day hearing on the Order set down for August 2013. If the Tribunal does make a final Order which reflects the objects of the RSR Act, road transport drivers could have an enforceable instrument that determines obligations relating to minimum terms and conditions that apply to all relevant parties throughout the transport supply chain.

LINDA TUCKER is head of legal for the Transport Workers Union of Australia. The TWU has campaigned for two decades to address supply chain remuneration pressures on road transport drivers. The proposed draft RSR Orders and submissions of the Transport Workers Union and other parties, along with the Tribunal’s draft Order, are available at —  www.rsrt.gov.au.

(2013) 38(3) AltLJ 193
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