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The Demise of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal

Scott Murray - Thursday, May 26, 2016

Earlier this year, we wrote about the release of the Road Safety Remuneration Order that implemented mandated minimum rates of pay for sub contractor owner drivers.

A lot has happened in that short time. For one thing, the RSRT was abolished by an Act of Federal Parliament on the 18 April 2016.

In the time that followed after the Order was released, a legal and political storm erupted which ultimately led to the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal – along with the scrapping of the Orders decreed under its banner.

The RSRT – Unnecessary and Duplicitous?

Many reputable and professional road transport operators and road transport industry groups have long held that the RSRT was an unnecessary and duplicitous body. Much of what the RSRT was tasked to address was already covered by various comprehensive pieces of legislation, and the regulatory oversight bodies that go hand in hand with such legislation.

The RSRT first issued orders in 2014 that touched upon such issues as Work Health and Safety Training for company drivers and contractor drivers. However, such safety training obligations already existed in the harmonised Work Health and Safety legislation across Australia. They apply to all employees and contractors in all industries.

Why did the heavy vehicle industry require another layer of regulation to mandate something that was already mandated?

Likewise, the Tribunal’s first Order mandated the completion of Safe Driving Plans – aimed at ensuring drivers were given enough time to undertake a trip, taking into account fatigue, speed and other factors such as loading. While the rationale and intention behind such a requirement may have been sound, legislation already existed (and still exists) that made it illegal for anyone in the chain of responsibility to encourage, coerce or reward drivers to speed or breach fatigue laws to make deadlines.

What would a Safe Driving Plan accomplish that this legislation, properly enforced, could not?

Similarly, schedulers and freight allocators already had (and still have) a positive legal obligation to make enquiries into the fatigue risk of drivers prior to allocating them any work. Risk assessments in relation to both speed and fatigue are required to be conducted by this legislation, and to comply with accreditations pursuant to the industry based Trucksafe program or the legislative based Basic Fatigue Management (National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme). Again what could a Safe Driving Plan offer that these various legislative and accreditation based requirements could not?

Was the RSRT out of touch with the realities of the industry?

Apart from being a superfluous and duplicitous body, and despite years of industry consultation to assist in the Order making process, the RSRT appeared out of touch with the real cut and thrust of the road transport industry.

For example, when the Order regarding minimum payments for contractor owner drivers was implemented (albeit for a very short time) it did not take into account a number of crucial and fundamental aspects of road transport in Australia. The rates in the Order did not take into account or make any provision with respect to part loads or loads with multiple consignments. The rates in the Order did not take into account ‘backloading’ or rates on sub prime freight corridors. Such glaring omissions from the Order on such fundamental and important aspects of the road transport industry in Australia is a direct reflection on the Tribunal’s lack of understanding of the actual issues it was trying to address.

The voice of the people or political grandstanding?

After much public outcry and some intense lobbying by all sides affected by the RSRO, including its supporters, the RSRT was abolished.

Was the abolition of the RSRT democracy in action? Was it the will and voice of the people coming to bear? Or was the RSRT’s abolition inappropriate political interference of an ‘independent’ administrative tribunal?

Many of the supporters of the RSRT have argued that the RSRT’s demise was a political spectacle or stunt. On the other hand, many non supporters of the RSRT argue that the very inception of the RSRT was a political spectacle. Those arguments can never be resolved objectively as the RSRT was both created and abolished by Governments on opposing sides of the Australian political divide.

Everyone wants to see improved road safety

The reality is that every person wants a safer road network.

Professional and reputable road transport operators are among the strongest and most vocal proponents and advocates of road safety. However, despite the universally acknowledged importance of road safety, the practical process of ensuring a safer road network for all users is a complex problem. It involves, among other things, road design and engineering, vehicle technology, driver education, changing public attitudes, and effective laws. Perhaps a costly Tribunal, which made orders that merely echoed existing legislative requirements and failed to take into consideration some fundamental and basic operational road transport issues in Australia, was not the best way forward in achieving tangible road safety benefits.

It’s easy and philosophical to say that minimum rates save lives, but the reality is always more complex. To say that the abolition of the RSRT will cost lives is vastly oversimplifying the issue and is both emotive and inaccurate.

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