If you’d looked at the date before reading the various stories coming out of the Federal Court and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal RSRO  last Friday you may have believed that it was all just a big April Fools Day joke.
However it is far from a joking matter and as is often the case, the  truth is far more intriguing and perplexing than fiction.
Fortunately for the industry the Federal Court granted a stay on the RSRO on Friday evening, following an urgent application by NatRoad with the support of the Australian Trucking Association.
This meant that the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments RSRO, that was to apply to thousands of contractor drivers across the country, will now not go ahead until further order of the Court.
And now it looks like the RSRT Contractor Driver Rates program will be delayed until next year with the Australian Industry Group’s Innes Willox signalling that  the government is set to change the legislation and delay  he entire program until at least January 2017.

No statement has been made by the RSRT today  but the Australian Industry Group has been  one of the shakers and movers in the legal challenge to the RSRT. The AIG release specifically points to  the legislation change mentioning  ‘impending new government legislation to stop the RSRT rates until January 1 2017’.

“Industry welcomes today’s announcement that the Government will introduce legislation into Parliament aimed at ensuring that orders setting remuneration rates for contractor drivers cannot commence before 1 January 2017,” said Innes Willox, Australian Industry Group CEO.

“The legislation will allow time for the consultation process recently announced by the Government without the threat of widespread community and industry disruption, and loss of work for contractor drivers.

“During the Government’s consultation process, the Australian Industry Group will argue that the Road Safety Remuneration Act and Tribunal should be abolished. They are distracting resources and attention away from measures that are widely recognised as improving road safety such as compliance measures, better roads, and increased use of technology. Paying contractor drivers more or differently will not improve road safety.”

The trucking industry had been bracing for stormy weather as the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal stood its ground and was firm in its decision to go ahead with the implementation of the Contractor Driver Order which was to start today Monday 4th April.

As late as mid-afternoon on Friday the RSRT had made a statement confirming it would not vary its decision.

“For the foregoing reasons and as indicated, we have decided not to vary the commencement date of the 2016 RSRO or to add to it a transitional provision in respect of its minimum payments clauses,” read the statement released on Friday afternoon by the RSRT.

“The 2016 RSRO remains as made on 18 December 2015, with a commencement date of 4 April 2016.”

That stand by the RSRT saw a near volcanic eruption and reaction from the trucking industry. Both the ATA and the ALC went ahead with major campaigns to abolish the RSRT, the court win on Friday was the first step in the battle according to the ATA.

“Earlier this evening following an urgent application by NatRoad with the support of the Australian Trucking Association,the Federal Court in Brisbane granted a stay of the Contractor Driver Minimum Payments RSRO that was due to commence operation on Monday 4 April 2016,” said the ATA in its statement.

The trucking industry is hanging on a thread waiting for some kind of announcement from the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Presumably, they are going to wait until after midday to make any announcement to avoid the announcement appearing like a fools day joke.

The delay in making any sort of announcement is typical of the way the RSRT have been acting on this subject. The transport industry needs the decision, as to whether to delay the Contractor Drivers Order or not, now, any more delay is bound to create even more confusion. The trucking industry does not know what the world is going to look like for them when they wake up on Monday morning, the day the Order is due to come into effect.

The industry has been on tenterhooks awaiting some sort of announcement from the RSRT, with some speculating that they had delayed the announcement until Friday afternoon to avoid it looking like an April Fools Day joke.

Many in the industry have been critical of the way the RSRT has handled the entire project and the lack of clear communication and decisiveness and the delay on Friday just three days from the planned starting date was just one example its critics have cited.

The transport industry needed the decision in order to clear the confusion and give drivers and freight companies a clear view of what was coming.

The stay, while delaying the implementation, only adds to the uncertainty longer term with many questions still yet to be answered.

It is a parlous and ridiculous situation and a case of business engineering gone absolutely mad. That a rate of remuneration could be used to improve road safety is a giant leap of faith and one that is not backed up with any real evidence.

On Friday (1st April) two reports were released that pointed to the damage that could be wrought on the Australian economy if the Order had gone ahead.

If the order had gone ahead today then higher rates for owner-driver sub-contractors would have been mandatory. Many believe that this would have thrown the industry into turmoil as companies which employ their own drivers on staff would have been able to charge considerably lower rates than those who use sub-contractors and who would have been covered by the order.

Some believed that there may have been the possibility that a partial implementation of the new rules was a chance, so that while the Order would have come into effect the provisions about rates would be delayed until 1st October 1. This would have allowed operators some time to prepare for the changes

The third option that was speculated, which  it appears the government will implement,  was that the Order be delayed until 1st January 2017. The industry saw this as being the preferred path. This option gave the industry hope that the potential double dissolution election in July and a coalition victory with control of the senate could see the RSRT disbanded and the law bringing it about repealed. At worst many believed that the nine month delay could have given owner drivers an opportunity to find a way to avoid the worst constraints of the order.

The bottom line is that for the time being at least everything is on hold and the fiasco that has surrounded the RSRT may take some time to resolve.

There is some deep-seated resentment from many in the industry regarding the way they have been treated, particularly when making submissions in person during recent hearings.

Relations have soured significantly between the trucking industry and the RSRT and it is going to take a long time for the wounds to heal.