Truck industry rallies ahead of July 2 election amid claims 35,000 small businesses are in danger if Road Safety Tribunal is restored

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The future of as many as 35,000 small trucking businesses could be in jeopardy if the Australian Labor Party is elected on July 2, according to an industry body that is rolling out a nation-wide campaign against Labor’s proposal to reinstate the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) just weeks out from the federal election.

The campaign calls for the thousands of small trucking businesses and owner-drivers to support the Coalition’s proposed National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) safety reforms, and to seek commitment from local candidates.

Warren Clark, chief executive of the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad), says the outcome of this election is of primary importance to the trucking industry.

Clark said in a statement yesterday Labor and Coalition have “vastly different” approaches to the issue, and returning to the RSRT would “have an impact on the bottom line of small business truck drivers everywhere”.

“We all want a safe, competitive, thriving road freight industry – after all every Australian relies on trucks to transport goods to our communities,” Clark said.

“But when I talk to owner drivers during this election it is pretty clear that many businesses hang on the outcome.”

Clark does not believe the Labor Party will change its position on reinstating RSRT, telling SmartCompany this morning the ALP has “indicated pretty strongly” it will not change.

“Labor has committed to reintroducing the RSRT, and the flow on effect from that will make owner-drivers uncompetitive in the market,” Clark says.

If the RSRT was reinstated and chose to proceed with its controversial minimum pay order, it would increase the costs of small business trucking from 20-30%, according to the website for the NatRoad campaign.

NatRoad says the cost rise would mean small businesses and owner-drivers would be unable to compete with the larger trucking companies.

“The RSRT is a major threat to small trucking business, and it’s only aimed at the small trucking business,” Clark says.

“All the feedback we have received indicates that the community is being very proactive, and they’re determined to not have the tribunal reinstated in any form.”

NatRoad previously funded a legal challenge against the RSRT pay order, prior to the Federal Parliament voting to abolish the tribunal in April this year.

The Coalition has promised to redirect previous tribunal funding into safety reforms on the recently established NHVR, which it says will keep costs for small trucking businesses the same.

NatRoad represents over 35,000 trucking companies across the country, employing over 140,000 people.

However, the number of small trucking businesses that could be affected by a move to reinstate the RSRT may be much higher, with Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell previously putting the figure closer to 70,000.

NatRoad is not the only association behind the Coalition’s reforms, with the Australian Transport Association also calling for the RSRT not to be reinstated.

Carnell is currently undertaking an inquiry into the effects of the RSRT on small business, as directed by Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer.

Clark highlights the importance of safety in the trucking industry, saying that for driver-owners and small trucking businesses safety “underpins their ability to be in the driver’s seat making a living”.

NatRoad is also establishing a “special interest group” for owner-drivers, which was launched at the same time as the new campaign.

“Small trucking businesses know that a return to the RSRT is not the answer to improve safety,” says Clark.

“There’s many examples where real owner-drivers have lost contracts and their livelihoods because of this.”

Transport Workers’ Union responds

The future of the transport sector has become an important election issue for other players in the sector, including the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), which has launched its own campaign for “Safe Rates” in the industry.

In response to claims by NatRoad, TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said large numbers of truck drivers attended demonstrations and meetings in Sydney, Melbourne and Redcliffe in Queensland earlier this month in support of the campaign.

“Abolishing the Safe Rates system also terminated a requirement for owner drivers to be paid within 30 days of completing work, protections for whistleblower drivers who raise safety concerns and a requirement for safe driving plans,” Sheldon said in a statement to SmartCompany.

“The Safe Rates system aims to tackle the root causes of truck crashes, such as financial pressures on drivers to speed, drive long hours, skip mandatory rest breaks and skip maintenance on their vehicles.”

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