Federal Labor is set to bolster the businesses of trucking billionaires and corporations. Unsurprisingly, the billionaires are more than happy to have this happen.
Naturally, Labor’s billionaires business boost is not being promoted this way by Labor. Labor says that its plan is about making trucking rates ‘safe’. But anyway this is looked at, this is about eliminating independent truck drivers as competitors to the big trucking corporations and billionaire trucking empires.
We know this because Labor set up a ‘safe rates’ scheme in 2012. But it wasn’t until 2016 that the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) started dictating trucking rates. It was a disaster for the 35,000 affected self-employed, long-haul truck drivers. Large numbers of these truckies were in the process of being bankrupted and several desperate truckies committed suicide. The Small Business Ombudsman released a report on how bad the laws were.
We campaigned hard against the laws to the extent of mounting a High Court challenge to them. In our hearing before the Chief Justice of Australia he stated that we “may have an arguable case.” However the Turnbull government passed legislation to close down the RSRT in 2016 and we didn’t need to proceed with the rest of the legal challenge.
This saved the livelihoods and businesses of these thousands of hard-working, self-employed Australians. What we know from the 2016 experience is that the ‘trucking safe rates’ argument has a theoretical claim about safety, but is in fact about putting small business people out of business to the benefit of big business. That’s the truth.
The argument about safety is heavily promoted by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and goes something like this. The TWU says independent truck drivers work too hard. They drive long hours and the rates they charge are too low. These low rates mean that independent truck drivers have crashes. So, according to the TWU, the independent truckies need to be forced by legislation to charge more. Then the roads will be safe. That’s the TWU argument.
But look at the argument from a different angle—that is, from the viewpoint of competition.
Self-employed independent truck drivers are big competitors to the big trucking conglomerates (and they tend not to be union members!) By the nature of their businesses, independent truckies are able to be highly flexible. If, for example, an independent truckie is long-hauling between Perth and Brisbane and different jobs pop up along the way, they can respond in ways that the management bureaucracies of big companies cannot. This gives the independents big competitive advantages.
It’s this flexibility and fast responsiveness to customer needs that is key for the independents. But this does not suit the big transport bosses. And it does not suit the TWU which effectively enforces membership through the big transport bosses.
Now that Labor is in government and seems to have the support of the Greens in the Senate on labour issues, Albanese’s Labor is looking to target independent truck drivers again. Labor has announced that it intends to re-introduce a scheme of ‘safe’ rates for ‘employee-like’ independent truck drivers. They will do this in the second half of 2023.
Again, they are going to control the rates that independent truck drivers must charge. This will be a repeat of 2016. Independent truck drivers will be pushed into hardship, bankruptcies and suicide. Big trucking billionaires will get richer. This is Labor’s direct attack against Australian small business people.