The Transport Workers Union (TWU) says imposing minimum rates for owner-drivers will not price them out of the market, but industry figures disagree.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) is looking at introducing mandatory minimum hourly and kilometre-based rates for contractors.

Big players like Toll and Border Express have warned that the change would force many to bring their transport in-house.

But TWU national assistant Michael Kaine says trucking companies and supply chain operators will continue to need owner-drivers.

“I think it is a critical moment for the industry because there has been a lot of scaremongering going on out there by some employers saying that owner-drivers will be priced out of the market,” he said at a recent press conference.

”The fact of the matter is that owner-drivers are already being factored out of the market — bankruptcy or being killed — and this is a real opportunity for sustainability.

“There will always be a place for that type of small business that can provide a professional service on short notice or on an as-needs basis that stands outside a standing fleet,” Kaine said.

Some who are opposed to the change say the TWU is putting its big business friends first.

A number of contractors and subcontractors have now made submissions to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal using similar arguments and terminology to fly in the face of the TWU’s claim.

Beattie Transport, McCarthy Transport, Ri-Industries, Hi-Trans Express and Clarend Transport say they use subcontractors, but higher costs would reduce that option “dramatically”.

They say the industry costs modelled by KPMG included some flawed methodology, stating it was “far more variable and complex that the simplistic modelling used by the RSRT in developing its proposed rates”.

They also rejected the link between new rates and safety outcomes, saying most subcontractors were safe operators.

Kaye McCarthy of McCarthy Transport – a company that is both a contractor and a subcontractor - says the RSRT’s plan represents an existential threat.

“As a sub-contractor, our customers will no longer use our services if the proposed RSRT rates come in,” McCarthy said.

“This will destroy our family business which has been operating for over 40 years.”

She said that her firm uses sub-contractors, “but we will have to reduce and perhaps cease all use of sub-contractors if the proposed RSRT rates come in”.

Several industry players noted that market pressures would force them to bring subcontracted tasks in-house.