1st Fleet, TWU at impasse over wage claim

TWU threatens strike action against 1st Fleet after it refused 18 percent wage claim for Queensland truck drivers

1st Fleet, TWU at impasse over wage claim
1st Fleet, TWU at impasse over wage claim

By Brad Gardner | February 10, 2012

A union strike against 1st Fleet is brewing in Queensland after negotiations on a new enterprise agreement broke down over a wage claim.

The Queensland Transport Workers Union (TWU) will seek support from truck drivers at two 1st Fleet depots near Brisbane for industrial action after the company refused an 18 percent wage claim.

TWU organiser Troy Fernandez says drivers want a 6 percent pay rise each year over three years to bring them into line with the higher rates in NSW, but 1st Fleet Managing Director Stephen Brown says he cannot afford it.

"They want parity with NSW. I said I can’t do it," Brown says.

"They’re trying to convince me that Queensland is becoming more expensive to live. It’s still cheaper than f**kin’ Sydney. NSW has always been the more expensive state."

Claiming the trucking industry is suffering its worst slump since he’s been in the game, Brown says he offered drivers 3 percent each year for three years. He also offered to review the figure in 12 months to see if the state of the industry had improved.

"Our industry’s in trouble. This is the toughest f**kin’ year of my life. We’re in trouble, we’re getting caned everywhere. We’re getting caned on shortened terms, we’re getting caned on interest rates, residuals, everything," he says.

But Fernandez says Brown made similar arguments during negotiations on the previous enterprise agreement for Queensland drivers, which expired more than 18 months ago.

He says the south-east of the state is one of the fastest growing regions in the country and housing costs are comparable to Sydney. Drivers, Fernandez adds, are not prepared to settle for a 3 percent rise.

"If he continues to offer the 3 percent all that is going to happen is his drivers will go to other companies that offer better money," Fernandez says.
However, he says the TWU is prepared to negotiate if Brown comes back with a better offer.

"We are prepared to move but he needs to come back and say he is prepared to move."

The drivers to be balloted are based at 1st Fleet’s Crestmead and Acacia Ridge depots. The union held a ballot previously but went to Fair Work Australia requesting another one after drivers at the Crestmead depot were left off the voting list.

Drivers will be asked if they support indefinite bans on working overtime, an unlimited number of indefinite work stoppages and stoppages lasting between two and 48 hours.

Brown says he travelled to the Crestmead and Acacia Ridge yards to explain to drivers why he could not afford to pay more than 3 percent per year.

He likens the current state of the trucking industry to "a real dog eat dog" situation, with clients squeezing rates and operators undercutting each other to secure work.

"My rates are under total pressure everywhere because every [one’s] trying to kill everyone," he says.

Brown says he recently lost a contract to a big-name competitor who undercut him by as much as 30 percent. He has also taken aim at finance companies.

"They are the worst f**kin’ animals at the moment. I hope they’re all going to get punished. They are a f**kin’ disgrace," he says.

"I’m not taking on anything that requires a lot of equipment because it’s too hard to get finance."

Although there are looming cost pressures on the horizon in the form of the carbon tax, heavy vehicle charges and the proposed safe rates tribunal, Brown says he has not had time to look too far ahead.

"I can’t worry about something six months ahead. We’re getting punished every week for something," he says.

Brown says the holiday trade was poor and it has continued post-Christmas. He predicts the attrition rate in the trucking industry to climb, but stresses 1st Fleet will get by.

"We’ll survive, that’s not an issue. The issue is the pain we have to go through to get there."

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