Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bill 2018 | Second Reading

Ms SULEYMAN (St Albans) (17:50:36) — I am very pleased to rise and speak on this very important legislation, the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bill 2018. I would like to give a special shout-out to the members of the Transport Workers Union that are here today, in particular my brother, who is also in the gallery. I get to see and hear the stories firsthand about the great work that the Transport Workers Union do for the workers, in particular owner-drivers and truck drivers — stories that are particularly important to my electorate of St Albans.

This bill amends the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act 2005 to improve and protect small businesses. I am very proud of our government making work fairer and in particular making work safer for workers in the transport industry and for contractors in the forestry industry. Of course this bill adds to the act initially introduced by the Bracks Labor government. It amends the act and allows for the position of owner-drivers and forestry contractors by providing them with information and vital support to assist them in negotiating fair contracts. Most importantly, it makes sure that these changes are relevant to today’s industry. We want to ensure the positions of owner-drivers and forestry contractors by removing barriers that hold them back from operating small businesses in Victoria. This bill will also update the act to bring it into line with the current industry demands, practice and of course education and training.

There is no doubt the Andrews Labor government is committed to owner-drivers. We have put this at the forefront of decision-making, and we are responding to the Victorian inquiry into labour hire and insecure work. If we look at one report in particular, the Monash report that was conducted over 12 years, it found that truck driving is the unhealthiest and one of the deadliest jobs in this country. This landmark study found that there were over 120 000 insurance claims between 2004 and 2015 alone. The study identified that truck drivers have the highest rate of work-related injury and disease and a higher risk of illness, psychological stress and heart disease, and that is just naming a few things this study found. When we look at this profession, it is very hard physically and emotionally. It is a pressurised job, but it is also a chain that is very important to our industries, so we have a responsibility to make sure that our workers are protected and the right practices are in place to make sure that each and every worker is able to be protected.

What we have seen with regard to the increase in illnesses and stress with truck drivers is that there must be a response. We have seen a million lost weeks of pay and productivity for small businesses. These are extraordinary numbers, so I am very proud that our government is responding to the labour hire inquiry and making sure we not only introduce penalties for non-compliance but also put appropriate safeguards in place. Let me say that just in my electorate of St Albans I know so many truck drivers — drivers that make a living to raise families and pay off mortgages. We do not want our truck drivers being exploited by these unfair conditions.

Today this bill makes the law much more effective. It also provides authorised officers and the Victorian wage inspectorate with the powers to ensure that compliance is according to the act. The officers will have the ability to require a number of pieces of information according to the act and regulations, but most importantly they have the power to investigate possible breaches of the act. This is absolutely at the forefront. There is no point introducing practices that cannot be enforced. I commend the fact that we have funded this.

We are also making sure that truck drivers have the ability to be paid for all invoices within a 30-day period. That provides security and a safety net for subcontractors. It is just not right for a subcontractor to put in an invoice and then expect to be paid in the never-never. There must be a safety net, and making that safety net 30 days gives a guarantee and security for these truck drivers, because they are all trying to pay their bills, pay their insurance and pay their on-road costs to run their small businesses. This is about sustainability, and it provides provisions so that all owner-drivers can be paid and, most importantly, at an appropriate time. Also a lot of the drivers work additional hours to try and cover operating costs and of course the cost of raising families. As I said previously, the operating costs and the 30-day turnaround of invoices are an exceptional part of this legislation.

We are also looking at the benefits of this reform. The act is very clear in relation to non-compliance, and this bill amends the act to provide increased compliance and to make sure that we reduce the pressure on truck drivers throughout the state. There is no doubt that these contractors and our truck drivers are the backbone of industry and infrastructure projects in this state. We only need to look around and see the projects that the Andrews Labor government is doing, from the Metro Tunnel to the West Gate tunnel and many other level crossing removal projects throughout the state. There is no doubt this is a fantastic bill. It is reducing the pressure and again meeting industry demands, but most importantly it is protecting workers rights in this state.

I would like to also commend the work of the Transport Workers Union, in particular the national campaign of Safe Rates. I think this is a fantastic initiative, but again the Andrews Labor government is exemplary in making sure that we have the safety mechanisms around our owner-drivers in this state and, most particularly, in looking after the small businesses in this state, which are absolutely integral parts of this bill.

Again I give a shout-out to all the stakeholders that have been party to this process. There has been an extensive consultation period to bring forward this bill. I would also like to commend the Minister for Industrial Relations. This is a bill that goes to the core of our truck drivers. I know in my electorate of St Albans, where we have a very large number of truck drivers, that they will be extremely pleased with this bill because they know that it is the Andrews Labor government that protects workers in this state and puts them at the forefront when it comes to legislation and the appropriate mechanisms to protect fair pay and growth in this industry. I commend the bill to the house.

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