Owner-operator truck drivers could win pay rate reprieve thanks to Senate crossbenchers

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Controversial minimum pay rates for owner-operator truck drivers could be pushed back until January 2017 as crossbench Senators warm to the idea of giving industry more time to consult with policy makers.

The Turnbull government has said it will put forward legislation to freeze the new pay rates amid concerns big businesses will not be affected and smaller operators will be priced out of the market.

Read more: Fears 70,000 small business owners could lose their homes if controversial trucking regulations go ahead

The legislation is the last hope for independent truck drivers whose livelihoods rely on being able to compete with larger companies, after the full court of the Federal Court last week ruled the new pay rates should come into effect.

Employment Minister Michaela Cash hopes to put the bill before parliament when it resumes on April 18, and has also signalled the government will abolish the Road Safety and Remuneration Tribunal if the Coalition is returned to government at the next election.

Labor is opposed to any move to delay or abolish the new pay rates, arguing the Road and Safety Remuneration Tribunal is vital and higher rates of pay will boost safety on Australian roads.

It is almost certain Greens senators will vote against any changes to the new pay rates, given the party’s historical support of the tribunal. However, the matter is yet to be discussed formally in the Greens party room.

This means for the new pay rates to be pushed back, the federal government will have to rely on securing six votes from crossbench Senators.

SmartCompany can reveal the numbers are shifting in the government’s favour 

Last night, Victorian Senator John Madigan’s office told SmartCompany the independent would vote to freeze the new pay rates when the legislation comes before the Senate.

The Senator’s decision comes after consulting with around 200 stakeholders in Ballarat over the weekend.

Queensland independent Glenn Lazarus has also flagged his disapproval with the owner-operator pay rates but has urged the Prime Minister to not make this an election issue and instead give truckies certainty as soon as possible.

This morning, Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie announced she supports Senator Lazarus’s position.

In a statement to SmartCompany, Lambie said the Liberal party needs to stop playing games with the lives of thousands of trucking families.

“The Prime Minister’s decision to delay until after the election the abolishment of the RSRT only creates more uncertainty for Australian trucking families,” Lambie said.

“The Liberals have had two years to fix this problem… stop the political games. Abolish the RSRT and their silly low pay orders now.”

Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm told SmartCompany he would also be voting to freeze the new pay rates.

“I’m a libertarian … we don’t think governments improve markets by interfering in them,” Leyonhjelm says.

Family First Senator Bob Day holds a similar view.

“They [the Government] should abolish the tribunal altogether,” Day told SmartCompany.

“They need to do it before the next election. They can’t make it an election issue, they need to get onto it before any election, which is months and months away. They’ve got three months of sitting next week, they should get onto it then.”

South Australian independent Nick Xenophon has not formally declared his hand, but he has flagged his disappointment in the Road Safety and Remuneration Tribunal and says the new pay rates could “spell the end” of owner-operator truckies.

Australian Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir has been consulting widely over the past few days but has not decided whether or not he would vote in favour of the government’s legislation to delay the owner-operator pay rates.

“I will not support the abolishment of the RSRT, but will consider what action to take on the order only, after considering all the available information,” Muir said in a statement to SmartCompany.

A spokesperson for Palmer United Party Senator Dio Wang told SmartCompany the senator would welcome a move to delay the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal so he can “thoroughly consider its effect and engage in discussions with key stakeholders”.

The government needs six votes from the crossbench in order to pass its legislation freezing owner-operator pay rates, and it appears it has already locked in at least six – Madigan, Lazarus, Lambie, Leyonhjelm, Day and Wang.

The bill is expected to be introduced into parliament next week.

Are you an owner-operator truck driver affected by the Road Safety and Remuneration Tribunal’s decision? We’d like to hear from you: [email protected]

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