Scrutiny of the road transport sector is largely focused upon the risk-taking behaviours of drivers, with mechanisms in place that seek to minimise or eliminate unsafe work practices. Whilst interventions on behalf of governments and regulators that target risk taking behaviours are principled, they fail to address the underlying systemic causes of such behaviours.
A significant amount of research has shown that poor safety outcomes in the road transport sector are caused by economic and contracting pressures. Without addressing these pressures experienced by drivers, poor safety outcomes across the road transport sector will remain. According to the Transport Workers’ Union of Australia (TWU), efforts to address these behaviours such as education campaigns and punitive measures, whilst well intentioned, have limited impact when ‘underlying structural causes of such behaviour’ are overlooked.
This chapter considers work health and safety, and the various manifestations of risk-taking behaviour within the road transport sector. This chapter then considers the underlying economic pressures that cause such behaviours and highlights the importance of safe rates of pay and standards to address work health and safety issues.
Work health and safety
The implementation, regulation and enforcement of work health and safety (WHS) laws is the responsibility of Commonwealth, state and territory authorities.
At the Commonwealth level, Safe Work Australia leads national policy on work health and safety. Safe Work Australia developed model laws in 2011 to afford all workers in Australia the same protections. These have been introduced in all states and territories except Victoria and Western Australia.
National priorities are set according to the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022. The road transport industry is recognised as a priority area under the strategy due to its high rates of injury and fatalities. The strategy seeks to reduce the numbers of fatalities in the industry by at least 20 per cent and workers' compensation claims, especially for musculoskeletal disorders, by 30 per cent. Representatives from Safe Work Australia reported to the committee that 'in general terms, the targets have been met' or are on track to be met.
Safe Work Australia explained responsibilities under the WHS laws:
Vehicles used for work purposes are considered a workplace and that means the model WHS laws apply. It is important for all [people conducting a business or undertaking] and workers to be aware of the hazards of driving vehicles and working around them. Those with a WHS duty need to ensure they have systems and processes in place to eliminate the risks or minimise them as far as reasonably practicable.
The transport and logistics industry is one of the highest risk industries for work-related injury and disease in Australia. Safe Work Australia identified a number of the hazards characteristic of the industry:
Time pressures. Tight deadlines within the transport industry can make drivers feel pressured to speed and skip breaks.
Environmental factors. Bad weather, poor road surfaces, limited visibility, sun position and the unpredictability of other road users can all impact on driver safety on the road.
Shift work, fatigue and physical fitness. Shift work is common in the road transport industry and working irregular hours can cause fatigue and have adverse effects on health and safety. Transport work, especially driving, offers workers only brief periods of physical activity, for example when they are loading and unloading. This means workers are at a higher risk of being overweight or obese, are less active and sit for long periods.
Poor vehicle design. Transport drivers’ workplace is their vehicle, and so the design of the seat and vehicle controls as well as the duration and frequency they drive will affect their risk of musculoskeletal discomfort. Poor vehicle design and driving over rough roads can increase exposure to vibration, which increases risks for disorders to the musculoskeletal system and organs.
Manual handling of heavy weights. Loading and unloading vehicles often involves lifting heavy weights.
Working at height. Drivers of trucks regularly climb onto and off their vehicle and falls are a cause of serious incidents. If the worker is required to access the load from the top of the vehicle, appropriate fall protection needs to be in place.
Gases and fume exposure. Workers in the transport industry are more likely to report being exposed to airborne hazards such as gases and fumes than workers in other industries.
Safe Work Australia reported that an examination of 4200 serious workers' compensation claims in the road transport industry over the five years to 2017–18 found a frequency rate of 9.9 serious claims per million hours worked compared to the all-industries rate of 5.7. Road freight transport accounted for 83 per cent of all serious workers' compensation claims, with road passenger transport accounting for the remaining 17 per cent. The main causes of serious injury were muscular stress from handling objects and falls. On a positive note, Safe Work Australia reported that the rate of serious claims has been trending downwards and fell by 34 per cent in the last decade.
The Driving Health Study by the Monash University Insurance Work and Health Group also examined workers' compensation claims in the transport and logistics industries and found that the majority of time off work was due to psychological stress and musculoskeletal conditions. It found that truck drivers were 3.8 times more likely to suffer fractures than other workers, older drivers had high rates of hearing loss, and that truck drivers were significantly higher users of painkiller medications than other workers.
A complication for the road transport industry is that a large proportion of the industry is made up of independent contractors or operators who are unlikely to be covered by compensation schemes. They also do not appear in the workers compensation injury statistics.
Figure 2.1 shows that the road transport industry fatality number and rate from all causes has declined significantly since the peak of 62 deaths (26.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers) in 2007.
An analysis of road transport industry worker deaths between 2014 and 2019 found that the industry accounted for 20 per cent of all worker fatalities in Australia over that period. Furthermore, the road transport industry fatality rate was 13.2 per 100,000 workers averaged over 2015–19, nine times the total Australian worker fatality rate of 1.4. Ninety-five per cent of the industry deaths occurred in the road freight transport sector. A breakdown of causes of death is indicated in table 2.1.
Figure 2.1: Worker fatalities—number and rate–road transport, 2003–2019
Source: Safe Work Australia, answers to questions on notice, 28 April 2021 (received 11 May 2021), p. 5.
Table 2.1: Worker fatalities in road transport industry groups by mechanism of incident, 2014-18 (combined)
Road freight transport
Being hit by moving objects
Being hit by falling objects
Being trapped between stationary and moving objects
Falls from a height
Road passenger transport
Source: Safe Work Australia, Work related traumatic injury fatalities, Australia, 2019, p. 15.
* Vehicle collisions include fatalities that occurred as a direct result of a vehicle crash. Vehicles include not only road vehicles such as cars and trucks, but also machines such as aircraft, boats, loaders, tractors and quad bikes.
** Being hit by moving objects includes fatalities involving pedestrians hit by vehicles, as well as being hit by other moving equipment or objects.
Note: The percentages shown in this table have been rounded to the nearest whole number; therefore, the sum of the percentage figures for each column may not equal the total.
Health outcomes and risk taking behaviour
The indicators of systemic issues within the road transport sector manifest as risk taking behaviours and poor health outcomes. Whilst these behaviours and health issues are symptomatic of the overarching economic pressures, reporting of road transport incidents typically focus and place blame upon the behaviour of individual drivers rather than underlying causes.
Some of the primary health issues and problematic behaviours experienced by those working in the road transport industry are detailed below.
There is widespread understanding of the risk of fatigue and its impact on road transport drivers. Fatigue in the road transport industry has been associated with around one in ten major heavy vehicle crashes. Night driving, extended work hours, highway boredom, health and emotional issues and driving conditions are some of the factors that can contribute to fatigue.
The leading cause of fatigue within the road transport sector is the excessive hours of work required of drivers. A 2001 study by the National Transport Commission found one-quarter of drivers were breaking working hours regulations for every trip and over half of drivers reported breaking working hours regulations for at least half of their trips. The study found the reasons for such behaviour were due to drivers wanting to return home (46.8 per cent), to gain more work to earn a living (36.5 per cent) and a result of tight schedules (31.4 per cent).
One of the cited causes of fatigue across the sector is the pressure upon drivers to maximise the hours to compensate for ‘low levels of remuneration’. The TWU referenced research that those drivers subject to the ‘payment-by-results’ method for compensation were twice as likely to report being fatigued for half of their trips than those drivers paid on an hourly rate. This method, also known as contingent payment systems, accounted for 82.3 per cent of drivers across the road transport sector in Australia in 2001.
Research has shown drivers subject to the payment-by-result method or who are self-employed are more at risk of a workplace death. A 2013 study by Safe Work NSW reported that self-employed workers across the transport, postal and warehousing industry who were subject to the payment-by-result remuneration method had a fatality rate of 13.68 per 100,000 road transport workers. This figure was 27 per cent higher than those workers classified as employees. The study also found self-employed workers from the sector had the highest fatality rate, accounting for 28 per cent of all self-employed fatalities.
Problematic work practices leading to increased risk of fatigue were also identified in a 2017 study by Macquarie University. This study reported one in ten truck drivers worked over 80 hours per week, with those drivers subject to the expectation they drive to the ‘limit of their working hours’.
To demonstrate the issue of fatigue throughout the road transport sector and the inequality of fatigue enforcement measures, the TWU provided a case study into a 2012 Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) investigation into Blenners Transport. The company was subject to 740 charges of fatigue breaches, all of which the company contested. The TWU reported that despite the charges, Blenners Transport maintained its safety accreditation with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) and the Australian Transport Association (ATA) throughout the TMR investigation.
On the contrary, over 150 charges were laid against 45 individual drivers working for the company, who all pleaded guilty. Fines of over $65,000 were issued to the drivers, and ‘[n]o investigations were commenced into the clients which engaged Blenners to ascertain if the costs and conditions allowed goods to be transported safely’. A former operations manager of the company described that the level of fatigue experienced by drivers was ‘on an unprecedented level’ and added that he ‘was sacked because [he] put it in writing that the trucks were breaking the law’.
Between August and June 2017, the TMR consequently dropped the charges against Blenners Transport. In a statement to the media, TMR advised the decision was made ‘after consideration of specific matters such as the progress of the litigation up to that point, that the relevant legislation in issue has now been repealed, and the level of Blenners compliance since the litigation first commenced’.
One year later, in September 2018, two Blenners Transport trucks collided head-on whilst travelling along the Kennedy Highway near Mareeba. The two drivers of the trucks were killed.
A 2020 coroner’s report into the incident found one driver had large amounts of methylamphetamine in his system and had changed lanes into the path of the oncoming truck. The report noted that the driver was a known user of the drug and had personal and sleep problems. In the weeks before the crash, management of Blenners had noted the driver sleeping in his truck during work hours, and on the morning of his death the driver had complained about being tired. Despite these factors being considered by the coroner, it found Blenners ‘bore no responsibility for the crash and faced no prosecution’. Similarly, the NHVR advised Blenners that it had not contravened National Heavy Vehicle Legislation, whilst the ATA issued Blenners Transport with an award for its ‘great perseverance, strength and success’ and was inducted into Kenworth Legends.
Fatigue is also commonly cited in the media and by police as the reason for road transport accidents. This type of investigation and reporting inadvertently places blame for such incidents upon individual drivers rather than focusing on the underlying causes for drivers to drive whilst fatigued.
Fatigue and technology
Technology is often referenced as the solution to the problem of fatigue. However, the TWU argued the application of technology does not address the underlying causes of driver fatigue and other poor safety outcomes (rates of pay, work pressures and contracting practices). The TWU submitted that ‘technology gives the illusion that the problem of fatigue is being addressed when in reality it can be entirely ignored’. The TWU also made reference to drivers’ concerns about privacy and the covert use of technology to monitor drivers’ activities. Fatigue management through the use of technology is further discussed in Chapter 7. Consideration of a national framework for managing fatigue is considered in Chapter 4.
As demonstrated in the TWU’s case study, a combination of excessive hours of work, a high pressure work environment and fatigue can lead to an increased likelihood of drug use within the road transport sector. Indeed, two national surveys from 1991 and 1998 have demonstrated the prevalence of drug use within the transport industry as a strategy for managing fatigue.
The 2001 Report of inquiry into safety in the long-haul trucking sector came to the ‘firm conclusion’ that drug use was widespread within the industry but was not able to determine the precise level of use. The report noted that ‘prolonged sleep deprivation/fatigue and drug use may not only increase the risk of truck crashes but also will have long- term health effects on the drivers affected’. The TWU pointed out that the report made a link between ‘payment by result’ remuneration and the increased use of stimulant drugs.
Speeding is another risk taking behaviour recognised across the road transport sector. Similar to other behaviours, the TWU emphasised that it is a ‘result of pressure to take on more work and meet unrealistic deadlines’. The TWU referenced a study that found at least 55 per cent of heavy vehicle truck drivers had received at least one speeding fine.
Workers’ physical and mental health
Road transport drivers are also more likely to experience chronic levels of poor health. A 2018 Monash University study titled Work-related injury and disease in Australian truck drivers (the 2018 Monash study) found truck drivers were reportedly more at risk of work-related injuries and disease, with over 120,000 accepted compensation claims made between 2004 and 2015. These claims amounted to over one million lost weeks of work. The study also found that 17 per cent of working time loss was a result of vehicle crashes, with the remaining 83 per cent due to other causes (slips and trips, falls, noise, physical and psychological stress).
The 2018 Monash study also reported that long-haul truck drivers were more exposed to comorbidity issues, such as long working hours, sedentary roles, poor nutrition, social isolation, shift work, time pressure, low levels of job control and fatigue. The study added that ‘[t]ruck drivers are exposed to a variety of occupational stressors such as constant time pressures, social isolation, disrespectful treatment from others, driving hazards and violence or fear of violence’. Other examples of poor health outcomes include that:
fifty four per cent of truck drivers are obese, compared to 32 per cent of the general population;
thirty per cent of truck drivers have three or more diagnosable medical conditions compared to just eight per cent of the general population;
half of all truck drivers reported experiencing some form of psychological distress;
one in five truck drivers under the age of 35 experience ‘severe psychological distress’ compared to one in nine in the general population; and
thirty four per cent of male truck drivers experienced back problems compared to just 17 per cent of Australian males.
In 2020, Monash University released a Driving Health Survey that sought to understand the physical and mental health of 1390 Australian professional drivers. The survey revealed that nearly 30 per cent of the drivers reported being diagnosed with more than two mental health conditions, compared to 7.8 per cent of the general population. As noted in the previous paragraph, mental health issues were even more pronounced in younger drivers where one in five drivers aged under 35 reported 'severe' levels of psychological distress compared to one in nine in members of the general population of the same age group.
Of most concern is the tragically high rate of suicide amongst truck drivers. In a study led by Deakin University, it was reported that 323 truck drivers committed suicide between 2001 and 2010. A TWU analysis of reports by the Victorian coroner showed truck drivers ‘had the highest number of suicides out of any other profession, with 53 drivers taking their own lives between 2008 and 2014’.
Overall awareness of work health and safety issues
In 2015, Safe Work Australia released a synthesis of research findings that revealed many of the issues experienced within the road transport sector. The report found the industry received more safety training than other industries and that workers were well-informed of WHS matters. Despite sector participants being well-informed of the risks associated with the road transport sector, the report also found ‘widespread risk-taking and that safety rules are ignored in comparison to other industries’. When compared to other industries, the report found transport industry workers were more likely to accept risk-taking behaviour, rule breaking and minor incidents. It concluded that the primary issue was not a lack of understanding of safety rules and obligations, but rather that risk-taking behaviour was driven by ‘other factors’ that push drivers ‘to ignore safety rules and take risks’.
The Transport and Logistics Centre highlighted the work of Associate Professor Louise Thornthwaite, who maintained that a failure to understand the reasons injuries occurred in the industry was holding back efforts to make workplaces safer. Dr Thornthwaite recommended improving knowledge of the causes of risk and injury throughout the chain of responsibility; improving the collection of data on the incidence of workplace injury and illness, especially of owner drivers and sub-contractors; simplifying work health and safety regulations; improving the enforcement of work health and safety breaches; and ensuring drivers have appropriate skills to increase their understanding of risks and hazard prevention.
The TWU identified the lack of a mandatory, formal safety induction training program as a significant gap in road transport industry work health and safety when compared to the construction and rail industries. It further observed:
While the road transport industry has developed a universally recognised and nationally accredited safety training unit in the form of 'BlueCard' through the Transport Education Audit Compliance Health Organisation (TEACHO), the credential is currently not compulsory. This is neither effective nor efficient, resulting in some road transport workers receiving no induction training upon entering the industry, while other worker are provided multiple variants of such inductions unnecessarily.
Education and training measures, including the TEACHO’s BlueCard system, are considered in Chapter 5.
Fitness to drive
Toll Group submitted that a broader perspective should be taken on driver health and well-being, given the aging workforce and sedentary work within the industry. Examination of the company's on-road and driver fatalities revealed that twelve per cent were caused by non-work-related issues and in particular, cardiovascular health.
Toll Group expressed reservations at the current guidelines, Assessing Fitness to Drive, which are currently being reviewed by the National Transport Commission:
The approach to cardiovascular health in Assessing Fitness to Drive (AFTD) is limited in that it largely relies on driver self-report, does not include screening for diabetes or hyperlipidaemia, and does not include an ECG. This may account for why many drivers that die because of cardiovascular disease have no prior knowledge of the presence of the condition.
Toll Group supports mandating a fitness for duty standard in the road transport sector, as occurs in rail, maritime and aviation sectors. The Australian Trucking Association proposed that 'drivers should have regular medicals against upgraded fitness for duty standards’.
Dr Ross Iles stressed the multifactorial nature of both the problem and the solution:
While increasing the capacity of drivers to cope with the demands of the job—such as encouraging healthy eating and providing accessible and understandable mental health resources—is important, it cannot be the only strategy for ensuring the ongoing health and safety of drivers in the transport industry. Things like access to healthy food on the road, regulations that provide drivers with some control over their work and steps that prioritise the needs of drivers as being more important than, for example, the need to be on time—these things need to be done in a coordinated fashion across the industry for the industry to cope in the future. What we see from this health profile is that it's not sustainable.
Underlying causes of risk taking behaviour
The common thread between drivers’ health and risk taking behaviours is pressure imposed upon truck drivers by their clients particularly those at the apex of the supply chain. These major clients ‘set the prices for transport operators and drivers across the transport industry’ and ‘have the power to set standards in a way which determines safety outcomes’. These major clients encompass major retailers, manufacturers, oil companies, stevedores and freight forwarders.
The TWU’s submission outlined the impact of unsustainable economic and contracting pressures caused by the major clients of the transport supply chain, who set rates of pay, and the terms and conditions through tendering cycles. The TWU argued that major clients play a key role in determining sustainable and safe standards across the sector, but lack accountability for not doing so:
Despite having the central ability to determine such standards, major clients have little accountability for the standards which they do set even where…such standards have unsustainable and dangerous implications for the transport industry.
The primary reasons for unsustainable economic and contracting practices according to the TWU are the ‘large power imbalance between industry participants in the transport supply chains and the highly competitive nature of the transport market’. This dynamic forces transport operators and drivers to accept commercially unviable rates and terms and conditions to try and sustain their livelihoods and cover costs. Other factors include low barriers of entry into the sector and a high-number of sole-proprietors in the industry, which ultimately results in the forced ‘acceptance of non-viable rates excessive and illegal working hours, and stressed and chronically fatigued drivers’.
Compounding these issues are lowering of contract values and onerous contract terms, such as 120 day payments resulting in tight margins and low capital flows. Whilst payment rates decline, costs imposed upon the road transport sector (such as vehicle maintenance, road access charges, real estate and fuel costs—see Cost recovery measures for further information) continue to rise, leveraging service providers to continue to ‘reduce their margins to unsustainable levels or pass on these dangerous pressures further down the transport supply chains’. A hyper-competitive market has led to major transport operators contracting out transport functions on a cost-competitive basis, resulting in ‘the development of extreme competition in the industry beyond otherwise economically beneficial limits; where low prices are the primary determinant of securing enough work to continue to operate’.
Ultimately it is those providers at the very last link in the transport supply chain that are the most vulnerable to these market pressures, whom are faced with the ‘dangerous choice of engaging in unsafe practices, such as driving for too long, in order to cover their costs and provide a living for themselves and their family’.
Safe rates of pay and standards
The committee heard from a number of submitters and witnesses that heavy vehicle road safety was directly linked to low remuneration of truck drivers, especially those working as subcontractors. The International Labour Organization submitted that after 'an extensive review of all the literature that links pay and safety', this link had now been internationally recognised, with new International Labour Organization Guidelines on the promotion of decent work and road safety in the transport sector stating:
Pressure from supply chain entities can be an underlying cause of transport workers adopting riskier and unsafe driving practices. Sometimes, existing laws and enforcement mechanisms address drivers without directly reaching those entities that are at the root of these practices.
The causal economic and contracting pressures acting on drivers, according to the TWU, included low rates of pay, incentive-based schemes, unpaid work, poor queuing practices that reduced opportunities for drivers to rest and unsustainable work intensification.
Emeritus Professor Michael Quinlan tabled a document which summarised extensive academic research stretching over a 40-year period that supported the 'relationship between payment systems/levels, subcontracting and an array of OHS outcomes in the road transport industry' including crashes, injuries, drug use and hazardous behaviour.
In evidence, Emeritus Professor Quinlan informed the committee that physical and mental health issues of drivers had also been linked to pay systems. Quinlan concluded that to avoid significant adverse effects on health and safety required 'a reasonable level of pay in the industry, irrespective of employment status, so that owner-drivers get a reasonable return and small companies are not squeezed'.
Dr Michael Belzer reported to the committee on a number of studies from the United States that showed that increasing the pay of truck drivers and paying for all non-driving work time, led to drivers working fewer hours and a lower frequency of accidents. Dr Belzer also reported on his analysis of 1997–98 driver survey data which tested the 'target earnings hypothesis', that drivers increase their work time until they reach target earnings needed to pay their bills and that if they earn above target earnings they work fewer hours, leading to greater highway safety. Dr Belzer concluded that a safe rate which would induce a driver to work the 60 hours per week worked by the median employee driver in the United States in 2010 was 60 cents per mile (in 2017 US dollars).
Several inquiry participants shared their observations of the detrimental effect of incentives on transport workers. Mr Chris Roe from Roe's Holdings argued that freight companies compete hard on price but then expect the subcontractor to take the reduction in rate to carry the operation out:
Any system of Awards and Rates must involve the removal of de facto incentives to work longer or faster or to carry more in an effort to compensate for an inadequate remuneration system. Enforcement will ensure prime contractors that competitors can't underquote on the basis of cheap subcontractors.
The solution to the safety crisis in the industry, according to Mr Richard Olsen of the Transport Workers' Union of New South Wales, was safe rates of pay and conditions:
Same job, same pay ensures safety rates for workers. These objectives cannot be achieved unless the federal government legislates change in the road transport industry and ensures its rigorous enforcement. History has proven that too many everyday Australians fall victim to self-regulation. The transport industry needs firm and decisive action from the federal government to ensure road transport workers can safely continue to keep Australia moving.
Dr Michael Rawling submitted in favour of a new national road transport legislative scheme which was binding and enforceable on the whole national supply chain for minimum wages and conditions, applied to all transport workers including owner drivers and gig economy drivers and paid workers for all working time. Dr Rawling emphasised that effective legislation would require a high level of agreement among employers, drivers, trade unions and governments.
Several witnesses expressed the view that there should be a chain of responsibility for wages. The concept was explained by Mr Gordon Mackinlay, president of the National Road Freighters Association:
John Smith might want to move a load of apples from Batlow to the Sydney market. He talks to this transport company, and they can't do it because all their trucks are busy carting things. So he gives it to this bloke and then he gives it to the next bloke. By the time it gets down old Fred, who actually jumps in the truck and carts the freight to market, there's nothing left because they've all taken their percentage out. So the person at the top of the chain under responsibility should have a legal obligation to the bloke who's actually carted the apples to the market to make sure that he's done it with enough money to run profitably, safely and economically viably.
Mr Cameron Dunn, managing director of FBT Transwest, saw a role for a government-funded 'independent umpire' with the power to enforce chain of responsibility for wages to verify whether the right rates of pay were going to the actual driver and that maintenance and insurances were in place.
Some submitters advocated reinstating a dedicated transport industry body along the lines of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) where company or owner driver contracts could be audited and investigated. Mr Ian Smith, secretary of the Transport Workers' Union South Australia/Northern Territory Branch, stated:
From my perspective, we need a body or legislation that enables some enforceable rights, so if we have found that a client at the top of the supply chain is paying a rate that's unsustainable and unsafe, that there's the ability of somebody to make an order against that particular company, that they must up the ante and play the ball properly and pay a decent rate for whatever it is, and it's enforceable, where we've got somewhere to go—like the RSRT was doing.
Mr Hugh McMaster of the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) expressed the view that the industry needed a body to consider 'all elements of the commercial working relationship between parties along the chain'. That is, road law, industrial law and work health and safety law. In Mr McMaster's view the RSRT had the capability to provide a model for a 'nationally regulated framework to determine pay and conditions for the industry'. His colleague, Mr Paul Ryan, national industrial adviser, articulated ARTIO's vision more fully:
We suggest the establishment of a transport standards inspectorate to provide appropriate and necessary enforcement mechanisms around the employment and engagement of workers in the road transport industry. This body needs to be able to investigate commercial contracts to ensure proper and fair standards are in place and followed by all participants in the supply chain so that, when something's contracted down two, three or four times and everyone takes their clip, the person down the bottom of that chain, whether it be a transport company or an owner operator, is paid a fair rate for the job that they're doing.
Mr Olsen emphasised the need for a national approach to regulation, rationalising that state-by-state regulation would not work when most of the supply chains are national.
Mr Tim Dawson, branch secretary of the Transport Workers' Union of Western Australia, said that an industry tribunal needed to be one where small or large businesses, owner drivers and employees could go without fear of reprisal. It also needed adequate powers of enforcement to prevent risk-taking activities in the industry:
We have companies that use a risk model to get the job done because they feel if they do get caught, at the end of the day it's worth that risk to try and win contracts. We need to stop that.
TWU national secretary Mr Michael Kaine added that a body was needed that set and enforced standards, but that also supported employers:
We need a standard-setting body, one that has the power to hold those with the economic grunt to account so they can pay employers properly, so we can stave off the gig-economy tsunami and so that that flows down to drivers so they're paid properly and they stop dying.
The view that rates of pay and safety go hand in hand was challenged by Mrs Janet Cooper of the Livestock and Rural Transport Association of Western Australia who argued that the evidence was not there to suggest that 'even if the rates were higher, owner-drivers would spend that additional money on safety related matters'. But she did agree that 'you shouldn't have to break the law in order to compete' and that instances of undercutting of compliant businesses should come under 'a certain amount of scrutiny'.
The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) similarly argued that there was insufficient evidence that a standard minimum rate 'will in and of itself improve safety across the industry'. The ALC contended that as well as the difficulty in establishing and defining what a safe rate might constitute, the 'idea that there is an arbitrary rate at which drivers will suddenly decide not take safety risks or engage in other irresponsible behaviour is not credible'.
To support its view, the ALC cited the findings of the inquiry conducted by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman conducted into the effect of the 2016 RSRT payments order on Australian small businesses, which found that:
Many owner-drivers and small transport operators reported narrow profit margins and financial stress previous to the RSRT and such businesses may have initially welcomed an order that could increase the rates that they received. However, difficulty in securing work before, during and after the Payments Order meant that these operators actually found themselves in a worse financial position than before the Payments Order, with many reportedly continuing to suffer the Payments Order’s negative effects on their business and livelihood.
In its submission, the NSW Business Chamber and Australian Business Industrial maintained that 'the assumption that there exists an irrefutable and axiomatic link between methods of payment and/or rates of pay and safety outcomes … is problematic since all variable and/or incentive-based payment arrangements do not axiomatically give rise to unsafe behaviour'. The submission further argued that the RSRT attempted to 'intrude industrially in the WHS space' and 'was a misalignment of balance in the regulatory scheme and an undue interference in legitimate contracting and contractual relationships'.
Management consultant Mr Barry Jenner did not think 'setting minimum rates is a good way to go'. Mr Jenner took the view that anyone in business had to work out what their expenses were and set their rates accordingly in order to make a profit. 'Smart operators', he noted, 'insist on their terms, not those terms proposed by the customer'. He conceded, however, that the barriers to entry in the industry were low and that 'strict policies with safety and compliance' were necessary.
The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, in noting the history of contention over the establishment and abolition of the RSRT, suggested that if any recommendations are made by the committee for a similar national scheme aimed at setting minimum safe pay rates for truck drivers, 'consideration should be given to establishing a remuneration framework that has been fully informed by consultation with all stakeholders within industry'.
Mr Mat Munro, executive director to the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters' Association, noted that ALRTA had opposed the RSRT in 2016, citing its broad powers, unresponsiveness to feedback and that its orders were not disallowable by Parliament. Mr Munro stated that if a similar body was established, consideration would need to be made as to how it was constituted and consults with industry, what failsafe mechanisms would be required and that its orders were 'mindful of not distorting the market' and 'apply to all freight of a particular nature'.