The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee probe has had an unsettled run since being agreed, having its reporting deadline extended three times and then it lapsing due to May’s double dissolution of Parliament.
Glenn Sterle has put the Senate spotlight on safety issues
Its new reporting date is October 18 next year.
Facing questioning over two hours this afternoon are senior officers VicRoads, Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Skills and Quality Authority.
Those from the New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services were unavailable, Sterle’s spokesman tells ATN.
The hearing comes on the day the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) says it has recovered $8,711 for a Sri Lankan asylum seeker who was underpaid over a period of just three months at a furniture removals business in Melbourne.
Shelly Removals and Storage underpaid the worker for truck driving and removalist duties between October last year and January this year.
"The Fair Work Ombudsman investigated after the worker lodged a request for assistance and the company, which did not have a history of non-compliance, and its director Sima Vaknin fully co-operated," the FWO’s office says.
"After being educated about its obligations, the company avoided facing legal action by back-paying the worker in full and agreeing to overhaul its workplace practices by entering into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
"As part of the EU, Shelly Removals and Storage will commission professional external audits of its practices this year and next year and rectify any non-compliance issues discovered."
It must also report to the FWO on process improvements it has made to ensure future compliance, commission workplace relations training for its managers, display a workplace and a public notice detailing its contraventions and apologise to the worker.
It was the worker’s first job in Australia since arriving as an asylum seeker a few years earlier.
The company recruited the worker, who was on a bridging visa with work rights at the time, by placing a job advertisement on a notice board at an Australian Migrant English Service centre.
The worker regularly worked 50 hours a week but was paid for only 30-38 of the hours and was paid at the unlawfully low, flat rate of $18 for those hours.
The FWO, Natalie James, says the practice of employers recruiting overseas workers and paying them a ‘going-rate’ below lawful Australian minimums is completely unacceptable.
"Overseas workers are entitled to receive the same minimum rates and entitlements that apply to all workers in Australia – and the rates are not negotiable," James says.
As a casual under the Road Transport and Distribution Award 2010, the worker was entitled to receive a base rate of $23.75 per hour, up to $39.90 for overtime, up to $42.75 on weekends and up to $52.25 on public holidays.
Shelly Removals and Storage also failed to pay his removalist and meal allowances and made an unlawful deduction from his wages for ‘insurance excess’ after he was involved in a road accident.
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) says the case highlights the need for the Sterle committee’s inquiry as it relates to driver exploitation
The inquiry "has highlighted the problem of training schools giving licences to people who don’t have the skills to drive trucks. So far 80 people have had their licences cancelled," the union says.
Sterle said in March that hearings earlier this year had been prompted by an incident in early February 2015, when an overseas driver, in Australia on a visa granted by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, caused a major traffic incident on the M5 in Sydney when he failed to reverse his truck and detach the trailer after he was concerned the heavy haulage vehicle he was driving would not fit into the tunnel he was driving towards.
The truck had to be removed by a public servant employed by Roads and Maritime Services as the driver of the truck was not capable of doing so.
"I initially raised this matter with the committee and its secretariat as I was concerned about the exploitation of foreign workers as well as the risk to safety of Australian road users," Sterle, a former truck driver, said then.
"What has come as a result of subsequent correspondence and evidence given at this week’s hearing shows that my concerns reach far wider than this incident alone."
This includes truck-driver licensing issues, including fraud and corruption, affecting New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
A case in Victoria is due to return to court on May 26 and this year three people in Queensland have been prosecuted for truck and car drivers’ licence fraud and drug offences.
He added that road safety "is something that I care very deeply about and my hope is that through the work of this inquiry, we can expose those who are rorting the system, stop the exploitation of the visa system and improve road safety for Australian drivers in the long run".