Australia to investigate link between port driver pay, safety

Australia to investigate link between port driver pay, safety

Port of Melbourne, Australia

The Australian government is launching an inquiry into the drayage industry practices at five major ports that could lead to higher mandated levels of driver pay or new work rules.

Australia’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal will look into pay and other practices related to container drayage at the ports of Adelaide, Brisbane, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney.

The drayage investigation is part of a broader review of the linkage between truck driver pay, working conditions and road safety in the independent tribunal’s third annual work program.

Also coming under RSRT scrutiny in 2015 are waste-hauling truckers; oil, fuel and gas haulers; and other sectors of the long-distance trucking and distribution industries in Australia.

The Container Transport Alliance Australia, an association of drayage-related businesses, criticized the RSRT’s drayage inquiry. “Our view is they shouldn't be looking into the ports industry," CTAA Director Gerard Langes told IHS Maritime 360. “It's a waste of time and energy. We are not saying it’s wrong. We are saying they should have other priorities.”

Truck driver pay is a global issue for shippers moving product in international supply chains and companies trying to keep and hire drivers and attract new workers to the field. Pay levels that are low when compared to other professions are a factor in driver shortages.

However, the RSRT, created by 2012 Australia’s Road Safety Remuneration Act, makes a direct link between levels of driver pay and highway safety. And the federal tribunal’s remit includes shippers and consignees as well as trucking employers and truck drivers.

The relationship between trucker pay and highway safety is coming under some scrutiny in the U.S. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last week submitted a plan for a study of "The Impact of Driver Compenation on Commercial Vehicle Safety" to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Australia has gone considerably further — the 2012 RSA specifically links pay to safety and also requires trucking operators to pay drivers for non-driving work such as unloading and loading shipments and waiting for consignees or shippers to unload or load trailers.

In comments submitted to the RSRT Dec. 10, the CTAA noted that the container drayage industry in Australia is highly concentrated. “Nationally, the top 100 CTOs (container transport operators) account for over 70 percent of activity (by volume),” the association said.

The group also noted that drayage driver pay is mainly based on minimum piece work rates established by the Australian government or hourly rates. “It is less likely for inadequate remuneration to be a significant factor impacting on road safety in the sector,” CTAA said.

The inquiry is supported, however, by the Transport Workers Union of Australia and the Victorian Transport Association, a logistics group in Australia’s most densely populated state.

“There is increasing pressure being faced upon the landside infrastructure freight process due to increases in import and export volumes,” VTA CEO Peter Anderson said in comments submitted to the RSRT Nov. 27. “Many practices for the movement of containers to and from the wharf are outdated, operator-specific and are not harmonized to meet modern standards and expectations.” Anderson pointed to long waits at port gates. “(D)elays and other inefficiencies potentially impact the safety of truck drivers and the community at large.”

Written submissions on the drayage inquiry must be submitted to the RSRT by March 27. The tribunal will then accept comments on those decisions through April 24.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com and follow him on Twitter: @wbcassidy_joc