SPEAKING ON A BILL | OWNER DRIVERS AND FORESTRY CONTRACTORS AMENDMENT BILL 2019
Mr Melhem: I also rise to speak in support of the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bill 2019. I want to congratulate the Minister for Roads for bringing this bill to the house. I also want to recognise the good work the Transport Workers Union has been doing in that space over the years to make sure we introduce some fairness into how contracts are negotiated in the industry. As we know owner-drivers invest a lot of their family fortune or money and they take on a lot of the risks. Most of them mortgage their houses and their assets to buy a truck or a piece of equipment so they can have their own business, work in the industry and earn a living. Yet they have to compete with each other, and some players in the industry, particularly employers, put pressure on owner-drivers and their costs. Basically the lowest common denominator wins.
In any business if someone wants to put out a tender to win a job, that is fair enough. You look at cost and quality et cetera. But in certain sectors, like the owner-drivers, I think it is very important to have a uniform approach. You need to get the base costs adhered to. We have seen that for owner-drivers in the construction industry, where price cutting was happening like there was no tomorrow because contractors in that industry were trying to pick the lowest cost. That compromises quality and health and safety and turns worker against worker. As far as I am concerned these owner-drivers are workers, like any employees; they are not employing dozens or hundreds of people. They are working for themselves operating equipment. Some of them might have one or two employees. Therefore as far as I am concerned they are workers, and they should be able to have some sort of collective approach.
The bill basically creates a level playing field by compelling the industry, or the employers—we are going to use this term for the people who are going to engage their services—to understand, for example, that the cost to service an owner-driver’s truck is worth X. So to operate a truck with all the safety standards and requirements to operate in the industry might cost $100 an hour, for argument’s sake—and I am just giving that figure as an example. Then it is up to the operator to decide how much their labour is worth. Is it worth $20 an hour or $50 an hour et cetera? But at least no-one can undercut the base cost. My understanding is there have been some examples quoted by the TWU over the years. They have been battling with employers and trying to address the fact that some even go under the base cost. That can only lead to one thing: using inferior equipment and compromising safety—the safety of these individuals operating this equipment and the safety of the public.
We know how large these trucks are and how fast they can go on major roads, especially on country roads, and I do drive past them from time to time. It is very important that this bill will actually do two things. One is it will give the owner-drivers a fair chance to be able to earn a living, and secondly, it will address the safety issues to make sure owner-drivers are not being put at risk and that they are not putting Victorian drivers and the rest of the community at risk. So it is always about that fair balance, and that is why I endorse the bill. I again want to congratulate the minister for putting it together, the TWU and all the owner-drivers who have been involved and consulted in the development of this bill. I hope the industry will actually implement the provisions of this legislation to make sure we get a fair system in place to make sure it is a win-win for the industry and a win-win for the owner-drivers and for the safety of the public. With those few words, I commend the bill to the house. Motion agreed to. Read second time.