The federal court has lifted an order delaying the introduction of new minimum pay rates for owner-drivers in the trucking industry that were intended to reduce road deaths by removing financial incentives to skip breaks or speed.
In December the road safety remuneration tribunal made its first minimum pay order for owner-drivers, which was due to come into effect last Monday.
On Thursday the federal court dismissed the application and refused to extend the stay order, meaning the pay rates specified in the road safety remuneration order will come into force.
But the pay rates may have a short life, as government plans to introduce legislation to delay them until January 2017 received crucial support from six of the eight Senate crossbench senators, enough to pass.
The pay rates are controversial, with the government and Australian Industry Group claiming independent contractors will be put out of work by having to lift their costs by as much as 30%.
The Transport Workers Union argues they address pressure drivers are under to speed, drive long hours, skip mandatory rest breaks and skip maintenance on their vehicles because of financial squeeze placed on them by major clients.
TWU national secretary, Tony Sheldon, urged the government to back the road safety remuneration tribunal’s order.
He said “the safe rates order is now in place and I am urging all parties to end the scaremongering and the lies which have been put out about it”.
“This order will benefit the trucking community, it will begin the process of helping to save lives on the roads and making owner-drivers’ businesses more sustainable.”
Australian Industry Group chief executive, Innes Willox, said the decision was disappointing and worrying.
“The tribunal’s order will increase costs for industry and consumers. The order also threatens jobs and work for contractor drivers, and harm to regional and rural areas which are heavily reliant on road transport,” he said.
“The federal court’s decision reinforces the importance of parliament moving quickly to pass foreshadowed legislation preventing orders setting remuneration rates for contractor drivers commencing before 1 January 2017.”
Employment minister, Michaelia Cash, said the government had intervened to support the case challenging the order and was disappointed by the outcome.
“The court’s decision means the payments order will now come into effect. It is now essential that the Senate pass the government’s legislation to delay [it] until 1 January 2017,” she said.
“The government shares the widespread concerns about the impact of the new laws on owner-drivers and the threat the payment order poses to all those who rely on an efficient and competitive road transport industry.”