A battle is brewing in the trucking industry over controversial rules originally set to come into effect today.
On Friday, the Federal Court pushed back the implementation of the new rules governing contractor driver payments, following an urgent application by the National Road Transport Association.
The new rules, if implemented, will introduce national minimum payments for certain contractor drivers in the road transport industry.
However, small business groups say the rules will make competing with big business even more difficult.
This is because owner-operator truck drivers will not be able to set their own minimum price for services.
There are fears big transport companies will be able to undercut small business operators because the new rules do not affect them.
Among the groups to have spoken out against the changes are the Council of Small Business of Australia, the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell told SmartCompany the regulations threaten the livelihoods of up to 70,000 small business owners.
Many truck drivers, she says, have mortgaged their homes and rely on being able to compete with the big end of town in order to put food on the table.
“There now needs to be a proper consultation and a serious look at the impact of this decision,” Carnell says.
“This affects a lot of small business people in Australia. A lot of those owner-drivers just believed this wouldn’t happen – they were too busy getting on with the job. We all can’t sit back and say phew … we believe it’s quite catastrophic.”
Uncertainty a major issue for owner-operator drivers
It is not yet known when the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments Road Safety Remuneration Order 2016 will come into effect, or whether the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal will amend the order, as the Federal Court is yet to settle on a date to review the case.
However, the federal government has announced a consultation process with owner-operator drivers and unions will soon take place.
On Friday, Employment Minister Michaela Cash said consultations will be conducted in regional areas to ensure small business owners outside of the major cities get the chance to have their say.
Carnell says this consultation process needs to happen as quickly as possible so the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and the Federal Court can see the impact these new rules will have on small business owners.
“The thing that’s missing from the debate at the moment is these family businesses,” she says.
“It’s their houses they’re going to lose. This needs to be ramped up pretty quickly because, fairly obviously, it will be a real disaster if this ruling [by the tribunal] goes ahead in its current form.”