The Australian, Ewin Hannan June 15, 2020
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has been accused of threatening criminal charges carrying jail terms against a truck driver after he wrote an opinion article urging owner-drivers not to undercut each other during the COVID-19 crisis.
In his monthly column in Owner Driver magazine, Frank Arcidiaco, writing as Frank Black, said he was concerned by “the cheap freight being offered by people taking advantage of the situation”.
“This is no time for bottom feeders to seek to profit at the expense of others. We can’t afford for rates to be lowered anywhere in the industry,” wrote Mr Arcidiaco, who is the owner-driver representative on the Australian Trucking Association’s general council.
“All that will happen if we undersell our work is that we all end up going bust. The only difference between drivers will be that those who refuse to do a run for no profit won’t have run our trucks into the ground in the process and may have something worth selling.
“In harder times, it’s more important than ever for us to stick together and stand strong. We all feel the calling of our personal financial needs but undercutting each other to win work will only do harm to us all.”
In an extraordinary letter to Mr Arcidiaco, ACCC director of cartels Catherine Pavey said his article “made statements that could give rise to allegations that you attempted to fix prices with other owner-drivers”.
“The ACCC has not formed any concluded views about this issue, but has concerns about the article and whether the conduct is more wide reaching,” Ms Pavey said. “The article raises concerns that you may have attempted to form arrangements or reach understandings with the purpose of fixing, controlling or maintaining prices. If such conduct has occurred, or is occurring, it may constitute a breach of the Competition and Consumer Act, including the cartel provisions.”
She said contravention of the provisions was “a criminal – offence and carries serious criminal and civil penalties, including up to 10 years in jail for individuals, and heavy pecuniary penalties for corporations”.
Seeking the withdrawal of the letter and an apology, Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine said it was “astounding and distressing that the ACCC has written this threatening letter to a hardworking truck driver when it should be fully aware that longstanding laws in Australia provide owner-drivers with certainty over their rates entirely within the scope of the law”.
“We are utterly astounded that the ACCC is threatening criminal charges carrying jail terms to a truck driver, who is the elected owner-driver representative on the general council of the Australian Trucking Association, over an opinion article which merely states the blinding obvious: that truck drivers are under pressure because of the squeeze on rates,” he said.