Sam Buckingham-Jones, 04 April 2016

Independent senator Glenn ­Lazarus has joined a chorus of calls for the abolition of the truckies’ tribunal, as owner-­drivers claimed a ruling by the transport arm of the industrial ­relations umpire would bankrupt them.

A convoy of up to 100 trucks protested in Brisbane yesterday against the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’s “safe rates” order applying to owner truck drivers.

Senator Lazarus, who ­addressed yesterday’s protest, backflipped on his support for the RSRT after it issued an order ­setting national minimum rates of pay for contractor drivers and mandated owners conduct annual audits for supply chain ­contracts. The RSRT has emerged as the centre of a political storm, with Labor and the Transport Workers Union in favour of the tribunal and its order and the federal government understood to oppose it.

Senator Lazarus later told The Australian: “I was of the impression that the RSRT operated in the best interests of all areas of the road transport industry — clearly I was wrong.”

He said the RSRT’s payment regimen for truck driver who own their own vehicles “would ­decimate mum and dad trucking businesses across the country.

“In light of this, it is evident to me that the RSRT has no interest in supporting the owner-driver truckie sector and therefore the RSRT has to go.”

The events put the senator on a collision course with Labor and unions, who say the order would improve safety by alleviating pressure on drivers to speed and skip rest breaks.

He is aligned on the issue with the government, which has been frustrated by Senator Lazarus’s opposition to the bill to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which could prove a double-dissolution trigger. The government is considering calls to scrap the RSRT, with government MPs vowing to make it a frontline election issue.

Queensland couple Richard Jenkins and Nicole Leape are among 40,000 owner-drivers ­nationally covered by the order.

“If it goes through, it will affect me and my family,” Ms Leape said at yesterday’s protest with Mr Jenkins. “We’ve got a huge chance we’d end up bankrupt. We’re a family with four children, we don’t need to be uprooting all of that. We just want fair rates.”

Angelo Guarino, 54, said it would be more ­expensive to hire owner-drivers under the new pay rates.

“We’re the competition at the moment, we keep it fair,” he said referring to giants such as Linfox and Toll.

The RSRT ignited a firestorm on Friday by rejecting submissions from industry groups, backed by the government, to delay introducing the minimum pay rates, which were due to come into effect today.

Late on Friday evening, Federal Court judge Berna Collier granted a National Road Transport Association application to stay the RSRT’s order, in advance of an application against the order by the Australian Industry Group.

The next day, the TWU made its own application to court for an order setting aside Justice ­Collier’s stay, likely to be heard today or tomorrow.

“Drivers should be able to support their business and family without risking their own lives and those of other road users,” said TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon.

Extracted in full from The Australian.