A member of the controversial former minimum rates tribunal says the chance to act on delayed payments as well as unpaid waiting time and loading/unloading was thrown out with the axing of the tribunal.
Prof Ann Williamson.
Prof Ann Williamson was speaking at the recent Australasian Road Safety Conference in Canberra, where she was awarded the annual top gong for road safety professionals in front of more than 500 attendees at Parliament House.
Williamson is director of the Transport and Road Safety Research Centre at the University of NSW, and amongst other trucking issues has been researching driver fatigue for decades.
She was also a part-time member of the ill-fated Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT).
Williamson was one of the three tribunal members who decided not to delay the fateful payments order for the long distance and supermarket sector, even after the Transport Workers Union (TWU) had relented and was willing to accept a delay.
She does not concede that the bombshell decision in early April to forge ahead, after Easter hearings, was a mistake, and is an unapologetic supporter of the RSRT or something like it.
She says the link between low rates and safety is undeniable, based on several peer-reviewed studies.
She disputes that better pay would simply create an incentive for greedy drivers to do yet more work: "We’re not talking about creating instant millionaires."
Williamson says the RSRT was well and truly aware of the major issue of back-loading, and insists this was taken into account in the average rates set. She says trips should be paid according to the costs, not the destination.
She says much lower rates for backloading "is at the heart of a lot of the problems we are having".
Without naming any organisation she says there was a lot of misinformation going on at the time of the RSRT’s demise, as well as a lack of information.
"To this day I don’t understand how the politics ended up the way it did," she adds.
Waiting, Loading And Unloading
Prof Williamson says the baby was thrown out with the bath water with two key RSRT orders – mandatory 30 day payments to subcontractors; and owner-drivers being paid for waiting time and loading/unloading.
Even many of the RSRT’s staunchest critics agree that these elements are essential to a sustainable trucking industry if they are applied across the board and benefit all operators and employees.
Williamson says customers should have to pay demurrage to trucking companies if their vehicles and drivers have to wait.
"Someone has to pay, and if the customer is causing the wait, it should be the customer’s cost.
"Some (trucking) companies are trying to get remunerated for waiting time but it’s relatively few.
"I realise that a lot of operators are nervous about pushing customers, but it falls under chain of responsibility.
"A customer who makes a driver’s work time go longer by making him wait for a couple of hours while they get their act together, that’s just as unsafe as any other thing you might do.
"If there’s a cost to having a driver sitting around waiting for a load … I think miraculously we will get more efficient."
Williamson believes operator licensing is a "no brainer", and apart from anything else would enable all operators to be emailed and kept informed of the latest developments in regulations – something which she says didn’t happen during the RSRT saga.
She says apart from excessive hours, other fatigue-related risk factors for crashes are night driving; driving for more than four hours straight; and empty loads. These can triple the risk of a crash.