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Un-status symbol

3rd April 1970, Page 58
3rd April 1970
Page 58
Page 58, 3rd April 1970 — Un-status symbol
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

by Janus

STATUTORY WAGES and conditions are not an asset of which an industry can be proud. A wages council is the reverse of a status symbol. Every good industry should be without it. One of the many ways in which the British Transport Commission 20 years ago tried to upstage independent operators was to point out with just the right touch of malice that because British Road Services did not need at that time to hold carriers' licences they were therefore outside the scope of road haulage wages orders.

When, subsequently, licensing was reintroduced into state-owned road haulage the exemption was retained and written into the legislation. More recently the commission of inquiry into the field of operation of the Road Haulage Wages Council has put forward no suggestion for a change in this item.

Unlike some of the committees and commissions with which road transport has been plagued the commission of inquiry kept strictly to its terms of reference. No attempt was made to pass judgment on wages councils in general or the road haulage council in particular. It is well known, however, that reputable hauliers have for a long time canvassed the possibility of ridding their industry of what they regard as a humiliating control.

No doubt their point of view is shared by many traders and manufacturers who may have had plans to work for hire or reward once they had obtained their operator's licence. They may be engaged in honourable callings where, to borrow the somewhat stuffy language of the BTC, statutory enforcement of wages is "felt to be inappropriate". In protesting against the proposed extension of the scope of the Road Haulage Wages Council the Freight Transport Association may have had this point in mind without formulating it in words.

THERE are other more tangible disadvantages. Operators to whom the awards of the wages council apply are subject also to the procedure. Among other things they must display the appropriate wage proposals and orders on their premises; they must keep records of wages paid; they must produce these records for examination when required. Failure to comply with these and other requirements is an offence to which penalties are attached.

• There is reason enough here for trying to keep clear of the wages council. It was natural that the FTA should Protest against the commission's proposaj that all . free enterprise carriers of goods for hire or reward should be subject to the provisions of the wages orders. It was also logical that the commission should reach this decision.

Hauliers have had trouble enough with indeterminate definitions. The scope of a declaration of normal user has caused more argument than perhaps any other licensing term. Licensing Authorities have disagreed about the extent to which traffic has to change before it becomes abnormal. The Transport Tribunal has prudently evaded the issue. On reflection many people would agree that it might have been better to allow the holder of an A licence to carry whatever goods he liked.

Much fruitless controversy would thus have been saved. The risk of similar arguments over wages orders has been avoided by Mrs Barbara Castle's acceptance of the commission's recommendations. At least there will be no ambiguity. Even a single journey during a year for which payment is made brings the operator within the ambit of the road haulage industry. He cannot escape the consequences.

THE commission's report really left the Secretary of State with no option but to agree. Her original suggestion was to restrict the scope of the wages orders to undertakings whose work was "wholly or mainly for hire or reward". This would be unfair to professional hauliers, said the commission, and the substitution of "substantially" for "mainly" would raise endless difficulties of interpretation.

Nor would it be practicable to specify a small proportion of work for hire or reward which would keep the operator out of the clutches of the wages council. The only possible solution was to apply the wages orders to any undertaking "engaged in the carriage of goods for hire or reward to any extent".

The commission and the FTA believe that the decision will considerably widen the scope of the wages counciL This will not necessarily be the case. Confusion has possibly arisen because of the convenient past distinction between hauliers (with A or B licences) and operators on own-account (with C licences). It is sometimes forgotten that the B-licence holder may be a hybrid who uses his vehicles for his own business as well as for haulage.

There were and are many B-licence holders whose haulage work is infrequent. The commission recognized that many of them would become free from the wages council if the word "mainly" or even "substantially" was accepted. What is uncertain is the extent to which operators now holding C licences would like to have a B licence and will start to carry for hire or reward once an operator's licence is granted.

IN view of the fears expressed by the FTA at the wide-ranging consequences of the commission's report it is perhaps. strange that the FTA director, Mr H. R. Featherstone, has expressed the opinion that trade and industry will not make a great deal of use of the right to carry for hire or reward. When measured in terms of the total tonnage carried by road, he said in a recent paper to the Midland section of the Institute of Transport, it was hard to believe that the impact would be very great.

To subject his vehicles to the whims, priorities and uncertainties of third parties would, he said, in the majority of cases defeat the trader's purpose in having his own vehicles in the first place, namely to have the service which only exclusive control would give. Mr Featherstone's conception of the 1970s in road transport "is accordingly still of two large, distinct areas—the haulage contractor and the own-account operator pure and simple, with an enlarged but still relatively small grey area of mixed operators between".

The inference is that the own-account operator who knows his business will not often be tempted into trying to make a little money on the road haulage side. The "grey area" will be made up mainly of -small traders with one or two vehicles who may need a little time before they realize that the profit from hiring the vehicles out is balanced by the lose of their use.

HE need to comply with wages orders may give these traders food for thought which may ultimately be to their advantage. Operators on own-account as well as hauliers would prefer that there should be no abuse of the permissive society which has introduced operators' licensing. Whatever restrains traders from rushing headlong into road haulage commitments ought to be welcomed.

A convenient brake is provided by the commission's recommendation which is to be incorporated in a statutory order. Enforcement may be a problem. Unless an operator or one of his drivers volunteers the -information that goods are being carried for hire or reward the wages council will not be aware of the fact and will not add the operator to their circulation.

Except where carriers' licensing remains in force, records that have to be kept for inspection do not show the provenance of the traffic. A special investigation may be needed to find the facts. But an operator who deliberately evades his obligations not only runs the risk of a fine. He may find the Licensing Authority inquiring into the much wider question of his fitness to be allowed to run vehicles at all.

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