ACFS, Metcash swoop on 1st Fleet divisions and put drivers to work

ACFS and Metcash take over 1st Fleet divisions, saving Sydney and Queensland drivers from the unemployment line

ACFS, Metcash swoop on 1st Fleet divisions and put drivers to work
ACFS, Metcash swoop on 1st Fleet divisions and put drivers to work
By Brad Gardner | May 4, 2012

The sell-off of 1st Fleet is underway, with Australian Container Freight Services (ACFS) and Metcash taking over operations in Sydney and Queensland.

deVries Tayeh, the administrator of 1st Fleet, struck an early morning deal today with ACFS for it to take over the Sydney-based container division of the failed trucking business, which shut its doors late Wednesday.

The accountancy firm also reached an understanding with wholesale distributor Metcash to operate 1st Fleet’s C-Store division near Brisbane.

ACFS Managing Director Arthur Tzaneros worked with the administrator and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) through last night and early this morning, signing a deal at 2am in a move that saves around 40 former 1st Fleet workers from the unemployment line.

Tzaneros says ACFS has effectively taken control of the operation and assets of 1st Fleet’s business at Milperra, running the place under a deal of licence with the administrator while legal documents are finalised.

"It’s anything to do with the container division of 1st Fleet," Tzaneros tells ATN

"[It’s] roughly 24 trucks and quite a number of additional subbies, but we’re probably going to employ another 10 to 15 subbies and there’s a lot more trailers. I think there’s 40 to 50 trailers, but I haven’t got a certain number on that yet.

"We managed to keep on all the administration staff and the majority of all the transport workers."

Tzaneros says "it took a lot of pushing" to get the deal over the line, with ACFS adamant a deal had to be done by today.

"At the end of the day if it went past today I wasn’t interested because you just would have lost the clients and it would have been very difficult."

He says 1st Fleet’s former customers expressed confidence in ACFS taking over and he expects them to stay on. The former 1st Fleet employees began working from 6am today and Tzaneros says the trucks will be rebadged in the next week.

Metcash has taken over a smaller slice of the business, signing an agreement that keeps about 18 truck drivers working.

Metcash and deVries Tayeh reached a deal hours after 1st Fleet shut down for it to take over the C-Store operation at 1st Fleet’s Crestmead depot.

Drivers were already delivering for Metcash when 1st Fleet was running, with the Crestmead operation focused purely on supplying goods to independent grocers such as IGA.

TWU organiser Troy Fernandez says workers arrived at the depot on the morning of May 3 to be told they no longer worked for 1st Fleet and that Metcash would now be paying them.

Fernandez says the company had to act quickly to make sure it didn’t lose clients.

"It was too valuable for them [Metcash] to lose. They could not stop the supply of the goods to all those tiny suppliers because for them they would just go over to their competitor and that would be really quite bad business for them," he says.

"Metcash were just protecting their business from what I understand."

He says the 18 trucks previously under the ownership of 1st Fleet shifted to Metcash.

Meanwhile, deVries Tayeh says it is continuing negotiations to find a buyer for 1st Fleet’s Express and Line Haulage divisions.

"We remain positive for an outcome that will assist employees," it says in a statement.

In a message to former 1st Fleet employees, the firm thanked them for their support and patience.

"We are working with representatives from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) with the view to ensuring you receive the full amount of your entitlements at the earliest time. At this stage we cannot give you a firm timeframe. For updates feel free to contact your TWU delegate or us," it says.

A union organiser based at another 1st Fleet Queensland depot in Acacia Ridge says he is hopeful the more than 30 people stationed there will secure new work.

Brad Wyatt says trucking companies have contacted the TWU expressing interest in hiring truck and forklift drivers.

"There are positions available if people are looking for them, so hopefully we can place them pretty quickly," he says.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon today praised ACFS and Metcash for stepping in to rescue workers and says deVries Tayeh has been constructive in working with the union.

"I think I should really give credit to Metcash for actually doing what we asked them to do and step in and give these people job security. They deserve a pat on the back and credit," he says.

Sheldon says the TWU will be pushing for an investigation into the running of 1st Fleet to determine if it was trading insolvent.

Managing Director Stephen Brown this week blamed debtor funder Coface Australia for the demise of his business, which opened its doors in 1988. He says it refused to finance him unless 1st Fleet went into administration and then pulled the funding this week.

1st Fleet also blamed late payment terms and tough loan conditions for its predicament. DeVries Tayeh closed the doors at 11.55pm on Wednesday and sent representatives to hand out termination letters to workers when they turned up the next day.

Fernandez says he was "sick to the stomach" when he received the call that 1st Fleet was going under.

"I knew I was going to show up the next morning to an angry group of people, men and women, I didn’t have answers for. They’re going to be confused and upset and I didn’t have a lot to tell them."

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