Page 232 - Week 01 - Thursday, 9 December 2004

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under a contract are under constant downward pressure, contractors are forced to cut the costs of their operations. Cost cutting leads to inadequate regard for occupational health and safety standards.

The road transport industry, in particular, is characterised by a high use of contractors, compared with direct employment. This has contributed to low wages and occupational health and safety problems in the industry. Inquiries into road fatalities in other Australian jurisdictions have heard evidence about long-haul truck drivers who are required to meet impossible delivery deadlines. The result is tired and stressed drivers under pressure to speed on our roads and drive for very long periods without proper rest in order to meet contractual obligations.

We have also, unfortunately, seen examples in the ACT of unfair contracts forced onto owner-drivers in the transport industry. Fair contracts laws have been introduced in several Australian jurisdictions, including New South Wales and the commonwealth. In fact, there are provisions allowing for the review of unfair contracts in the federal Workplace Relations Act that are already available to contractors in the ACT.

However, these federal laws require individual contractors to seek review of their contracts by the Federal Court. Proceedings in the Federal Court are formal, legalistic, expensive and slow, creating costs and time delays that are prohibitive. It is simply not feasible for a contractor whose contract may provide remuneration even lower than the federal minimum wage to bring proceedings in the Federal Court.

The Fair Work Contracts Bill will establish a low cost, accessible alternative for contractors in the ACT. The bill proposes the establishment of a new division of the Consumer and Trader Tribunal to hear applications from dependent contractors for review of unfair contracts. The Consumer and Trader Tribunal is required under its establishing legislation to ensure that the procedures of the tribunal are as simple, quick and inexpensive as is consistent with achieving justice.

Applications for review can be made by contractors or by their industrial representatives. Legal representation will be available only with the leave of the tribunal, to ensure that proceedings are kept as simple and inexpensive as possible. Truly independent contractors will not have access to the tribunal, as access will be limited to contractors earning less than $200,000 a year under a contract.

In addition to contractors who are individuals, the bill will provide a mechanism for small businesses to seek review of unfair contracts with larger firms which use their greater bargaining power to impose unfair terms. Corporations with a turnover of less than $200,000 a year will be able to seek review of unfair contracts. This limitation is designed to ensure that protections are available to small businesses but cannot be abused by larger labour hire firms.

The bill will allow for several people working under the same, or similar, contracts to bring an application for review together, providing an opportunity to cut down on the costs of proceedings. On receiving an application, the tribunal would need to review the contract to determine whether it was unfair. The matters that the tribunal would consider in the review are: the relative bargaining power of the parties to the contract; whether any undue influence or pressure was exerted on a party to the contract or whether any

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