Employers balk at owner-driver legal protection: Victoria

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Employers balk at owner-driver legal protection: Victoria

Too much complexity and the potential for greater union involvement characterise new Victorian owner-driver laws, according to VECCI.

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Too much complexity and the potential for greater union involvement characterise new Victorian owner-driver laws, according to VECCI.

The Owner-drivers and Forestry Contractors Bill passed the Victorian Parliament last week.

The new law reshapes the owner driver and hirer relationship, stipulating a range of provisions for negotiating contracts and resolving disputes, but it doesn’t stipulate pay rates.

The Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) is disappointed that the Bill passed in its current form and raised a number of logistical concerns.

New laws in brief

Under the law:

  • Written contracts spelling out terms and conditions are mandatory.
  • Hirers must provide information booklets providing rates and schedules.
  • Contracts must include costs.
  • Contracts cannot lock in prices for long periods without regard for increasing overheads.
  • Groups of contractors can appoint a bargaining agent to negotiate with hirers on their behalf.
  • Minimum notice periods and payment in lieu of notice are also included in the new laws.
  • Owner-drivers will be able to access the Small Business Commission to resolve disputes.

The laws don’t apply to one-off or short term jobs.

Also, the transport and forest industry councils will be responsible for facilitating the implementation of the laws through the development of model agreements and information booklets and making recommendations about codes of practice.

The council members will be appointed by the responsible Minister and include a balance of contractor and hirer representatives.

Employer protests

VECCI raised the following concerns about the Bill:

  • The information booklets, rates and cost schedules and codes of practice would be too complex to develop and maintain.
  • The diversity and contractor capability within the industry went unrecognised.
  • The door had been opened to greater union involvement and organised industrial action.
  • Termination provisions were too much like employment arrangements.
  • The dispute resolution mechanism lent itself to industry-wide determinations.

There was also concern about the need for written contracts and the possible composition of the Transport Industry Council – even though the responsible Minister indicated a balance of contractors and hirers will be appointed.

Underestimated and uniformed

Despite VECCI’s concerns, the Victorian Government saw a need for the new law, as it believed many owner drivers suffered from being at the wrong end of a power imbalance.

There are between 10,000 to 15,000 Victorian owner-drivers. Some 85% of trucking companies employ fewer than five people.

According to an earlier statement from the Victorian IR Minister Rob Hulls, many underestimate the cost of running the business, in particular petrol prices, and have the fourth highest insolvency rate of any Victorian occupational group.

The new law is aimed at small owner driver businesses, he said, many of whom work for one hirer and are treated more like employees than business operators.

The new law’s start date is yet to be confirmed, but it will be sometime before December 2006.

The Bill

To read the Bill go here.

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