Watchdog to probe fallout from truckies’ safe rates order

THE AUSTRALIAN

MAY 9, 2016 6:12PM

Elizabeth Colman

The small business watchdog will scrutinise the damage to truckies’ businesses from the short-lived ‘safe rates’ order, which forced minimum pay scales onto owner drivers.

The Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman said today it would probe the fallout on owner drive finances from the order, which was handed down by Labor’s road safety remuneration tribunal.

The order sparked a furious campaign against the tribunal, which culminated in the Coalition’s swift abolition of the industrial body last month amid fears the minimum pay rates would force owner drivers out of business.

Kate Carnell, in her first inquiry since she was appointed Ombudsman, said she “will consult broadly with stakeholders to establish exactly how widespread situations of financial hardship are”.

“The anecdotal evidence we’re hearing of the financial difficulties small businesses continue to face as a result of the Payments Order is extremely concerning, so a formal investigation into the extent of the impact is certainly warranted,” Ms Carnell said today.

“Some owner-drivers are saying the battle to stay afloat has only just begun, as they struggle to stay on the road and try and recoup the income they were forced to forgo during the weeks of uncertainty triggered by the RSRT, so we’ll be looking for feedback to determine just how prevalent these sorts of cases are.”

Ms Carnell, whose previous role was chief executive of the business lobby, ACCI, and became a vocal critic of the tribunal and joined calls for its abolition, said she wanted to hear from small businesses who have been subjected to “heavy-handed practices from creditors”.

“I’ve been made aware of instances whereby people have resorted to borrowing money from family members in order to stay on top of their payments,” Ms Carnell said.

Although the order was in force for only a matter of days, the probe will examine “the period before and after” the order.

The Turnbull Government referred the inquiry to the Ombudsman in one of its last acts before moving into caretaker mode.

Labor has vowed to resurrect the order, and Bill Shorten has said he will consider reinstating the Tribunal in consultation with industry.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash and Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said in a joint statement yesterday that “many owner-drivers are now receiving default notices from their banks, financiers and suppliers, despite the Government’s action to abolish the Tribunal.”

“Many owner truck drivers are struggling to recover from the effects of the Payments Order, the unfair rates it sought to introduce and the economically disastrous effect it had on their small business,” the statement added.