Union cries 'discrimination' over Toll's zone allowance

Toll's North Queensland operation beset by driver anger over the company’s selective introduction of zone allowances for its workforce

Union cries 'discrimination' over Toll's zone allowance
Union cries 'discrimination' over Toll's zone allowance
By Brad Gardner | April 26, 2012

Toll’s North Queensland operation has been beset by driver anger, with accusations of discrimination over the selective introduction of payments designed to prevent staff from fleeing to the mines.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) and a group of drivers at Toll’s NQX depot in Mackay are seething over what they believe is preferential treatment for colleagues based in other regions who receive a weekly zone allowance.

Toll General Manager of Corporate Affairs Andrew Ethell says the company pays its drivers, yard staff and administration workers at Cloncurry, Emerald, Gladstone and Mt Isa an allowance to combat the influence of the mining boom. Toll also pays its Mackay-based mechanics a fixed amount.

TWU organiser Tom Pfund says truck drivers are up in arms over management's refusal to extend the payment, which he claims is $288, to them.

"They’re not treating their workers with the respect they deserve. All they’re asking for is a $288 allowance the same as what these people in the workshops and other depots are getting," he says.

"You just can’t discriminate against one particular workforce. It’s like two people being side by side still working for the same company and you say, ‘I’ll give it to him but I’m not going to give it to him’."

Ethell says Mackay-based drivers are already paid above the award rate.

"A fixed zone allowance applies to local drivers, yard staff and administration staff who work in the four Toll NQX depots of Cloncurry, Emerald, Gladstone and Mt Isa," he says.

"The allowance helps to combat the traditionally high staff turnover due to the high wages being paid by mining companies in the same areas. The allowance amount varies by zone, and recognises the difficulties faced by businesses in attracting and retaining appropriately qualified staff in those areas."

Pfund says the cost of living expenses in Mackay are comparable to Gladstone and that the TWU has been pushing for at least two years to get NQX to pay up. He says drivers "are just ropable" over Toll’s stance and are struggling to get by on their existing wages.

"All NQX has to do is redo their rates. The mines don’t give a sh**. If they want their stuff they don’t mind paying," he says.

Pfund claims workshop mechanics began receiving a weekly allowance in January after a manager complained about losing skilled workers. Toll denies the company has a problem retaining staff in Mackay, but Pfund has likened the depot to a "revolving door".

"If you went through the books and saw how many people came and left it would be astonishing," he says.

Pfund says the union may resort to "a shame game" in cahoots with the Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) to publicise its campaign for Mackay drivers to receive the allowance.

He also expects the TWU to press its case for the zone allowance during the next round of enterprise bargaining negotiations.

"It’s just not acceptable. They’re basically saying their workers at NQX Mackay are not valued in the same vein as the people doing the same job at Gladstone," Pfund claims

Ethell, however, has put forward a suggestion for Mackay drivers wishing to receive extra pay.

"We welcome applications from drivers, internal or external to Toll, wishing to move to Cloncurry, Emerald, Gladstone or Mt Isa to live and work, to which they will also be paid the appropriate fixed allowance. Interested applicants can phone Toll NQX on (07) 3275 0400," he says.

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