Hockey calls on NSW to help owner-drivers

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Hockey calls on NSW to help owner-drivers

Taxpayers have forked out about $360m since 2001 to pay entitlements owed to workers by employers who have gone into liquidation - but the owner-drivers at the McArthur transport company won't be getting any help from such payments.

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Taxpayers have forked out about $360m since 2001 to pay entitlements owed to workers by employers who have gone into liquidation - but the owner-drivers at the McArthur transport company won't be getting any help from such payments.

Due to exemptions from the WorkChoices laws, owner-drivers in NSW are covered by State industrial laws, and do not qualify for payments from the Federal Government's General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme (GEERS).

Owes creditors millions

McArthur went into liquidation last week owing creditors millions, and the employees will get their unpaid wages from GEERS within the next week. They will have to wait longer to be recompensed for such things as long service leave and redundancy payments out of the GEERS scheme - which in any case is capped at 16 weeks' pay.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, has now written to his NSW counterpart, John Della Bosca, asking him to provide assistance to the owner-drivers.

Hockey said IR Minister, Della Bosca, has ensured owner-drivers have remained part of the State system, and it is time for him to show that the NSW Government is prepared to help the McArthur owner-drivers and their families.

Disappointing

'It is disappointing that the NSW Government has not acted sooner given that the Howard Government decided to fast-track GEERS to protect the entitlements of around 400 ex-employees last Friday,' Hockey said.

In his letter to Della Bosca, Hockey said the regulation of owner-drivers remains within the State Government's jurisdiction. The engagement of these owner-drivers is not covered by Federal workplace legislation but by the provisions of Chapter 6 of the NSW Industrial Relations Act 1996 (NSW).

'You have, on many occasions, advocated the importance of State industrial relations laws and have railed against any Commonwealth influence in this area. Clearly these workers are covered by NSW law,' Hockey wrote.

Act 'sympathetically'

'I encourage the NSW Government to exercise its obligations to these owner-drivers sympathetically and to assist them as much as possible.

'I think this represents a good opportunity where both Federal and State Governments are compelled to provide the best possible outcome in what is a very difficult situation for a large number of working families.'

Della Bosca has not yet replied.

History

Hard line economic rationalists within the Howard Government had bitterly opposed the exemption of owner-drivers from contractors' legislation, saying they should be treated as small business owners.

Debate

However, other elements within the Government feared that owner-drivers bidding each other down for contracts would have serious health and safety ramifications, with drivers working longer hours and using drugs to stay awake - with the potential for carnage on the highways for which the Government would get the blame.

This has led to the curious situation where independent owner-drivers are represented in negotiations by the Transport Workers Union acting on their behalf to make deals with the big transport companies.

Related

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