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Owner-drivers hail new transport industry rates determination

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NSW owner-drivers and contractors have lauded the finalisation of new transport industry rates and conditions after the NSWIRC approved the updating and geographical expansion of 'contracts of carriage' that had not been reviewed in more than 30 years.

After three years of often-heated negotiations, this week's decision by Commissioner Peter Newall largely reflects Acting Justice Peter Kite's interim decision from April last year (see Related Article), in which he varied the determination to "provide fair and reasonable conditions for owner-drivers and contractors".

Beginning April 15, the General Carriers Contract Determination (GCCD) - not modernised since 1984 - will now apply to 'contracts of carriage' defined in Chapter 6 of the state's Industrial Relations Act.

Previously applied only to certain Sydney-based and local-area delivery drivers, the determination's coverage has now been expanded to cover the busy corridors between Sydney and Wollongong and Sydney and Newcastle.

The GCCD also now includes refrigerated trucks, the ability for employees to negotiate guaranteed hours with employers and a 2.5% increase in rates across the board, to be phased in over a number of years from 2019.

TWU NSW branch secretary Richard Olsen described the decision as providing fair rates to allow drivers to maintain their vehicles, keep their businesses going and pay themselves a wage.

While noting employer group NatRoad "was the only group which did not come on board", Olsen characterised the decision as "an important backing by the entire industry for a system of fair rates and conditions for drivers".

"It will give owner-drivers the certainty they need about their future," he said.

According to Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation NSW Branch secretary/treasurer Hugh McMaster, negotiations focussed on the development of a rates structure that reflected as closely as possible actual operating costs, how to phase in the new rates structure and the extent of the GCCD's geographic coverage.

"The approach of the parties to these negotiations won praise from the bench given the complexity of the task," said McMaster, who along with most other employer representatives reached a consent position with the TWU in December (see Related Article).

A key aspect of the consent position reached by ARTIO, Linfox, Toll, TNT, NSW Business Chamber, MBA and the TWU was that the GCCD did not extend to the whole of the state, as originally proposed by the TWU.

Instead, the determination's reach, largely confined to within 50km of Sydney and any journeys of the same length elsewhere in NSW, would be extended to cover much of the Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong coastal strip, but only for outward journeys from the capital.

"Modest and conservative"

Responding to the decision, NatRoad assured its members that the new-look GCCD had undergone "modest", if overdue alterations.

NatRoad CEO Warren Clark said: "We know from recent experience how impractical and destructive applying rates for owner drivers can be.

"Interfering with the market and forcing set rates can potentially jeopardise the viability of the trucking industry."

NatRoad further told members that it had maintained its "long-held stance that owner-drivers should not be treated like mere employees but should be free to set their own competitive rates in accordance with market forces.  

"On NatRoad's urging, the NSW Industrial Relations Minister intervened in proceedings, helping to ensure the new determination was the best it could be in the circumstances.

"In handing down his decision, Commissioner Newall acknowledged that the increased scope of the new determination was modest and conservative, and provided fair and reasonable arrangements for both principal contractors and contract carriers, but windfalls for none."