We'll assist RSRT in its investigations, Woolies says

Retailer says it supports high wages for truck drivers and will work with tribunal as it goes about its investigations

We'll assist RSRT in its investigations, Woolies says
We’ll assist RSRT in its investigations, Woolies says
By Brad Gardner | January 14, 2012

Woolworths has pledged to work with the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) as it goes about its investigation of the retail sector and says it supports high wages for truck drivers.

Retail leads a list of sectors the RSRT will scrutinise to see if there are practices encouraging trucking operators and drivers to cut corners to make ends meet.

The tribunal will be able to issue orders mandating minimum remuneration and remuneration-related conditions if it believes doing so will improve the viability and safety of operators and drivers.

A spokesperson for Woolworths says the company supports any measures to make roads safer for all users.

"Our team works collaboratively with the industry and will we work with the tribunal in their inquiries and findings," the spokesperson says.

Woolworths National Transport Manager Chris Brooks says the retailer pays particular attention to driver wages when negotiating contracts with transport carriers.

"We would actually view favourably higher comparative wage costs or driver remuneration," he says.

"It’s about attracting the best driver talent and that’s critical to deliver the service and performance outcomes during the contract."

Brooks says Woolworths sits down with carriers to understand in detail all of their costs before awarding any new transport contract.

"I think this is important in terms of a road safety remuneration context," he says.

Woolworths has also expressed interest in being part of the five-star safety concept currently being developed in New South Wales. The initiative aims to reward transporters that achieve high safety ratings through training subsidies for drivers, a reduction in the frequency of inspections and the removal of access restrictions.

For clients like Woolworths, it hopes involvement in the scheme will position it as a customer transport operators want to haul freight for.

"Our vision is to be a consignor of choice by reputable carriers operating to the highest safety standard. The only way you can do that is if your carriers are attracting the top driver talent, and for that to happen we need to be a customer of choice," Brooks says.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has long accused retailers of using their market power to dictate terms and conditions to transporters, with Coles in recent times bearing the brunt of the TWU’s accusations.

"Coles is well aware that there are literally hundreds of transport companies and owner-drivers in their supply chain who are being squeezed by dangerously low rates, excessive demands and impossible deadlines. Despite this, Coles have refused to meaningfully engage on the pressures on truckies and the safety crisis on our roads to date," TWU Acting National Secretary Michael Kaine claims.

Coles says Linfox and Toll handle its contracts and both companies "are very proud of their safety record".

"In no way do our transport contracts with such companies force drivers into unsafe or illegal practices," a spokesperson for the retailer says.

"Coles is not squeezing its transport suppliers but working with them to generate shared benefits through higher sales and turnover."

The spokesperson points to recent wage increases for Toll and Linfox drivers as proof.

"The success of Coles’ strategy has allowed our major transport suppliers like Toll and Linfox to pay their TWU and NUW [National Union of Workers] workers a wage rise of 4 percent in 2011 and 2012 and 1 percent increases in superannuation contributions to 10 percent in 2011 and 11 percent in 2012," the spokesperson says.

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