Holbrook truck driver Gordon Mackinlay considers the workings of the road safety remuneration tribunal a ‘crime against Australia’.
Owner-operators like him – 39,000 in total – were left in limbo for 15 days due to pay rates imposed on their section of the industry, rendering them uncompetitive.
The job uncertainty leading up to the minimum rates order and throughout the legal to-and-fro to eventually abolish it on April 18 cost Mr Mackinlay $20,000.
“It was the single hardest thing my relationship has been through,” he said.
“I know a bloke who went from being a bright spark who had just finished paying his truck off … to having only worked once since the RSRT.
“There was a suicide one or two days before the order was repealed.”
This tragic death comprises one of 13 findings in an inquiry on the RSRT’s impacts by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell.
While the report noted compensation for business operators affected would be difficult to navigate, Mr Mackinlay wanted someone to be held accountable.
“The road safety remuneration tribunal were answerable to no one,” he said.
“I would personally like to see the tribunal and its sitting members somehow charged, because they’ve cost the country and a lot of businesses a lot of money.”
The inquiry details what owner drivers already know – safety in the industry shouldn’t be addressed through pay, the tribunal responsible for the order lacked impartiality, and it disrespected drivers.
The word ‘discriminatory’ was gratification for Pauline Kearney, who runs Glen Kearney Transport with her husband and sons.
“We were using that word right from the start,” she said.
“We wouldn’t have got any work … no one is going to tell me my family can’t work with us in our business.
“Someone in the report agreed he needed better rates, but under the system he wouldn’t get any work.”
Mrs Kearney and Mr Mackinlay know there are problems across the industry – with rates of pay, complex regulation and workforce supply, to name a few.
In the inquiry, drivers explained that fatigue management laws often meant they were required to drive when tired, or to rest when they were not tired.
But no matter what action is taken, it has to be transparent.
Mr Mackinlay said to ensure this, he and Mrs Kearney had joined an eight-member Owner Driver Working Group.
“Owner-drivers are the last ones in line and we’re getting shafted for sure – something does need to be done, but across the board,” he said.
“We have to sit down with the people involved.”
One of Mr Mackinlay’s main goals is to ensure owner-drivers are not dragged through the mud again, under the General Carriers Contract Determination NSW.
“The scary part about the RSRT and this GCCD is that they’re both controlled by a body, that by the forming of it, gives them ultimate control,” he said.
“The GCCD is proposing three different rates per division, whether your truck is less than 12 months old, one to three years old or like mine – over three years old.
“Once again, it’s segregating two parts of the industry.”
Mr Mackinlay said engaging all of industry in anything that would be all-encompassing was crucial.
“I’ve been round and round in circles of this whole issue, and I keep coming back to this one point – we need to keep a free market,” he said.
“I can’t tell you what will make Pauline and Glen’s job perfect, or vice versa, because it’s such a diverse industry.
“We should be able to continue to make decisions ourselves, and the smart ones and a few dopey ones like me will survive.”