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Closing loopholes bill to deliver fairer trucking contracts

04 September 2023

The closing loopholes bill will deliver fairer contracts for all trucking businesses, the Chair of the Australian Trucking Association, David Smith, said today.

Mr Smith was commenting on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, which the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke, introduced into Parliament today.

Mr Smith said the bill and future regulations would enable the Fair Work Commission to issue two new orders. Road transport minimum standards orders would apply to owner drivers and similar small trucking businesses. Road transport industry contractual chain orders could apply to the whole contract chain.

“One of the ATA’s objectives in our discussions with the Government was to avoid a repeat of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s decision to set minimum rates for owner drivers that were too high for the industry to pay,” Mr Smith said.

“The result was that prime contractors and industry customers chose to move their freight in other ways.

“Under this bill, the commission would be required to avoid unreasonable adverse impacts on sustainable competition and compliance costs. The commission would also be required to have regard to the commercial realities of the road transport industry and that owner drivers have chosen to be contractors not employees.

“The commission’s potential power to make contractual chain orders could enable it to stamp out unfair contract terms including excessively long payment times, unfair rate review and fuel levy clauses, and one-way terminations for convenience.

“The bill would also allow the commission to hear unfair contract and termination cases from owner drivers and other small road transport contractors. The minister would be able to make a Road Transport Industry Termination Code to guide businesses. The commission’s powers to resolve unfair contract disputes would be subject to a high income threshold.”

Mr Smith welcomed the Government’s decision to restrict the commission from issuing orders about road transport issues covered by the Heavy Vehicle National Law or other laws.

“We argued that the commission’s powers needed to be separated from safety regulation, because otherwise the industry would end up with conflicting safety requirements,” he said.

Mr Smith said the bill included extensive consultation provisions, including a requirement that road transport minimum standards orders be published for a period of time before they come into force. The period set out in the bill is 24 months.

“As introduced, the bill would also enable the Government to make regulations for road transport orders to be internally reviewed,” he said.

Mr Smith said the Government had consulted with the industry on the road transport provisions.

“During the consultation process, Minister Burke met our representatives in person on three separate occasions. The ATA also worked closely with Minister Burke’s office and his department.

“Our policy staff were able to review and comment on the in-confidence exposure draft legislation. It is evident that most of the checks and balances ATA asked for have been included in the bill introduced today.

“There are still issues to be resolved with the bill and the regulations that will underpin the commission’s extended role. We look forward to making a submission to the Senate inquiry into the bill and to working with the Government on Senate amendments and the regulations.

“In that process, we will be guided by the views of our member policy committee, which has been meeting regularly to provide us with input. I want to thank the members of the committee for their guidance and the time they have devoted to the issue,” he said.