Warning of 'militant' TWU, Winser stands by K&S policy

K&S Managing Director Legh Winser stands by decision to hold negligent truck drivers accountable and warns of "militant" TWU

Warning of 'militant' TWU, Winser stands by K&S policy
Warning of 'militant' TWU, Winser stands by K&S policy
By Brad Gardner | November 15, 2010

K&S Freighters Managing Director Legh Winser is standing by his decision to hold truck drivers liable for damaging vehicles in the wake of last week’s Federal Court ruling.

Speaking to ATN, Winser says K&S is currently receiving advice on the implications of Justice Dennis Cowdroy’s decision on its vehicle policy, which requires drivers to pay repair costs if they damage trucks.

Cowdroy was critical of aspects of the policy, but rejected a request from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to ban it.

"Our principle is not about the money, our principle is about stopping the damage and the cost to the business and the customers and other people’s property," Winser says of the policy.

"The company’s key point is we’re going to do everything in our power to look after equipment. It’s a simple principle as I said in the court – If you crash into someone’s car you pay for it."

Cowdroy highlighted inconsistencies in the wording of the policy and a failure by the company to properly investigate an accident involving K&S driver James Lee before sacking him. He also found Lee was unaware of the policy’s existence.

However, Cowdroy agreed with Winser’s claim that K&S was mainly concerned with improving drivers’ attitude toward equipment and ending a culture of carelessness.

"I suppose we didn’t get rolled like everyone thought we were going to, which was interesting, and I guess we wouldn’t stand up and say we had a victory either," Winser says.

He says some procedural issues such as the wording of the policy might need to be altered, along with measures to improve accountability.

"We’re sort of working through that process…I don’t think we need to make a lot of change."

But Winser's comments come amid warnings from the TWU it will hound K&S until the vehicle policy is scrapped.

"I am not sure how many times Legh Winser needs to hear that his policy is wrong, and I am not sure how many different people he needs to hear it from, but this is nonsense and the TWU and its members across the road transport industry are going to fight this policy until it is shredded," TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon says.

"The Federal Court on Friday has ruled Mr Lee was unfairly dismissed after he refused to pay for damage to a truck. In September, Fair Work Australia called the sacking of a truck driver by K&S Freighters 'unreasonable', after the company sacked the driver in the same circumstance."

When asked if he expected to see the TWU pursue K&S over its policy, Winser responded: "I think we will; I’m sure we will."

"The union is becoming more and more powerful and militant under the current government…It’s so one-sided now," he says.

Lee was sacked last year after refusing to pay for damages to a truck he reversed into a pole at a loading dock. Lee denied he was negligent and that the pole was in a blind-spot and his vision was affected by the afternoon sun.

Cowdroy awarded Lee $3,564.53 in compensation for unfair dismissal. The TWU sought damages of more than $40,000 – adjusted to $86,180.19 based on today’s values – for future economic loss.

The K&S vehicle policy exists as a document and as a summary in the handbook given to drivers during induction training.

The handbook states that damages "will be costed to the employee", while the separate document states drivers "may be required to meet part or all of the cost of repairing any damage caused to a Company vehicle".

Neither states that drivers must agree to minimum $100 weekly deductions or face the sack, which were conditions imposed on Lee.

"In circumstances where a policy is inconsistent with its apparent summary, the Court finds that the parties are only bound by the terms of the policy itself," Cowdroy says.

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