It would seem the entire trucking industry is collectively holding its breath at the moment. No-one is quite sure what is going to happen after D-day, when the latest Road Safety Remuneration Order (RSRO) comes into effect, on April 4.
Industry representatives are reporting a robust and intransigent attitude, on the part of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT). This does not augur well for what is likely to happen when the rates for owner driver subcontractors are enforced by the Order.
The level of confusion is understandable, this kind of legislation has not been used before. It is a mix of different legal mechanisms, set up to achieve a specific goal. This goal is, ostensibly, road safety, an improvement in the safety outcomes on our roads.
This laudable outcome may be achieved, but at what cost? The whole process seems to have been developed as a blunt instrument with which to attack the supermarkets, and their stretched supply chains.
The trucking industry has felt the uncomfortable pressure, and sometimes the irresistible power of the big supermarkets. Their sheer size means they can act like bullies without being explicit.
Where the chain of responsibility appears to be a relatively rational effective method of reducing the pressure to break the rules from very large and uncaring freight customers, it has not proven to be effective at all. Admittedly, a few corporate lawyers and consultants have closed a few loopholes and created more paper work.
So, we have a sensible bit of legislation, which is perceived to be vastly under achieving. Along comes a knee jerk reaction, driven by the TWU, with some legitimate concerns, and a compliant Labor Government. This legislation was not taken seriously when first mooted. Then, the trucking industry expected the incoming Coalition Government to kick it out.
As a result of not keeping our eye on the ball, we are now looking down the barrel of a real crisis. The legislation and the findings of the tribunal are aimed to be disruptive.
This meaning of disruption is not the positive modern definition of the word (like Uber being a disruptive technology). No, this is an old fashioned disruption. This is the prospect of the supermarket supply chains being unable to supply.
Rates have now been clearly defined in black and white, but who it is this order will cover is not quite so clear. The implications of the order are not easy to anticipate. Like many legal constructs, this order will need to be tested in the courts. If it is, there is a chance it could develop into a pragmatic set of guidelines.
The problem is what happens in the meantime, are operators using owner drivers as subcontractors to be in trouble from day one? Are thousands of subbies’ vehicles going to be parked up after April 4?
We just don’t know. There is little prospect of clarity as the RSRT are saying the only the only way to find out is wait until it comes up in front of the tribunal. Confused? Join the club!