Owner-drivers are being urged to band together and back the introduction of minimum rates in the face of threats they will lose work once the new regime begins.
Concern within the industry about the impact of minimum rates, which begin on April 4, has prompted Transport Workers Union (TWU) boss Tony Sheldon to intervene with a rallying call to truckies and a verbal blast to parties high up the supply chain.
The scheme is designed to benefit owner-drivers in the supermarket distribution and linehaul sectors with the promise of guaranteed hourly and kilometre rates and payment for rest breaks, loading and unloading time, refuelling and filling out paperwork — all within 30 days of completing work.
However, a lack of information about minimum rates has caused anxiety among those likely to be affected, along with unsubstantiated claims that owner-drivers will be priced out of the market from April.
Sheldon blames trucking clients for stoking fear among operators and drivers.
"The threats being spread about the [minimum rates] order are an attempt by wealthy clients at the top to bully weak-kneed transport companies to bow down," he says.
"I urge on all drivers to stand up and fight for your rights. You won them, you deserve them, you have a right to be paid for all your work."
The union is attempting to provide more information about minimum rates with answers to questions about what constitutes a minimum rate, what does the minimum rate cover and who does it apply to.
The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) announced in December last year that minimum rates would begin on April 4, but the agency has provided few details to those likely to be affected.
Instead it has urged people to seek legal advice or information from the Fair Work Ombudsman, which will be responsible for enforcing the scheme.
While owner-drivers will need to receive payment within 30 days, there is no requirement for clients to pay trucking operators within the same timeframe.
The situation means operators may be left at a financial disadvantage, which is something the TWU wants the RSRT to immediately address.
"I am also demanding that transport companies are paid in less than 30 days by clients. Withholding payment starves businesses of capital and puts all the risk on the transport company when the clients should be sharing this responsibility," Sheldon says.
The issue of payment terms reared in 2015 when FBT Transwest managing director Cameron Dunn publicly revealed customers were issuing contracts with 120-day payment terms.
Federal senators Glenn Sterle and John Williams have scolded businesses for dragging out payment terms and recently managed to pass a non-binding motion calling for them to settle accounts within 30 days.