07/12/2004 - 21:00

Legal load in truck battle

07/12/2004 - 21:00

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Legal load in truck battle

ANY settlement in the long-running truck drivers’ dispute over pay rates that could result in a pre-Christmas strike could run the risk of running foul of Australia’s competition laws.

Because the truck drivers are predominantly individual contractors, any attempts to set and enforce a minimum rate could be seen as a breach of the price fixing provisions in the Trade Practices Act.

An amendment recommended in the review of the act by retired High Court judge Sir Daryl Dawson, and expected to be passed in September, will allow small businesses to collectively bargain and avoid the price fixing problem.

Truck drivers have been threatening to take strike action unless their pay rates improve.

They say that, after factoring in fuel and maintenance costs, many are only receiving about $8 an hour, less than the minimum wage, while the mechanics that service their trucks are on $80 an hour.

The Transport Workers’ Union has been negotiating the drivers’ case with the Transport Forum of WA, which is representing the trucking companies.

Ironically, some of the owner drivers seeking improved rates are also Transport Forum members.

TWU spokesman Paul Aslan said there had previously been a set of guideline rates agreed between the industry and the truck companies but that system had been abandoned because it had been deemed anti-competitive by the authorities.

Transport Forum CEO Debra Goostrey said the guidelines were still in place but had not been updated since 1996.

She said there would be no problem to negotiate a new set of guideline rates.

The problem comes in getting the trucking companies and their customers to accept those rates.

Ms Goostrey said one factor driving rates down in the industry had been a lack of WA Government enforcement of new accreditation and fatigue-management standards.

Both sides of the argument agree that a few rogue operators are helping to drive down the rates for other truck drivers.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regional director Sam Di Scerni said any agreement between truck drivers and trucking companies on rates could be scrutinised to see if it breached the Trade Practices Act.

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