Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission

Owner-driver wins damages for unexpired contract

The Road Freight Transport Industry Tribunal upheld an owner‑driver’s claim for payment of the balance of an owner‑driver contract that was terminated by the prime contractor approximately 9 months before it was due to expire. 

Chief Commissioner Scott found that the parties entered into a one year contract in June 2011.  The arrangement was renewed yearly, for a period of about one year, because the contract provided for renewal and each time a contract ended, the parties continued to deal with each other as before.  In the circumstances, that conduct was sufficient to support a finding that the parties intended for the arrangement to run for another year.  Therefore, the prime contractor is liable to pay damages for the unexpired portion of the owner-driver contract.

The prime contractor said it did not have to pay the balance of the contract because it gave the owner-driver ‘reasonable notice’.  However, Chief Commissioner Scott found that the contract between the parties had no term for reasonable notice.  It could only be terminated ‘by expiration or by mutual agreement.’ 

The owner‑driver tried to claim that the arrangement was for a minimum of five years from June 2011.  However, he was ‘estopped’ from making that claim because in 2013, he entered into a deed to settle a dispute with the prime contractor.  A consequence of that deed was that, among other things, he could no longer claim that the owner-driver contract was a five year arrangement.  However, on the facts of the case, this did not make a substantial difference because contracts had already run for more than 4 years before the prime contractor sought to bring it to an end. 

The decision can be read here.

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