TWU hopeful survey will bring Coles to the table

TWU eyes survey of truck drivers to act as a circuit breaker to end Coles’ refusal to discuss union concerns

TWU hopeful survey will bring Coles to the table
TWU hopeful survey will bring Coles to the table
By Brad Gardner | April 16, 2013

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) is eyeing a new survey of truck drivers to act as a circuit breaker to end Coles’ refusal to come to the table to discuss road safety issues.

Speaking to ATN following last week’s release of the survey, TWU National Assistant Secretary Michael Kaine expressed hope the findings would grab Coles’ attention and finally open the door to the union to grab the ear of senior management.

Kaine says Coles, unlike rival Woolworths, has repeatedly ignored or rejected TWU requests over the last two years to raise concerns of supply chain pressures on truck drivers.

"[I] absolutely would hope that having seen these results, Coles would be open to discussing it and start moving away from the approach they are taking at the moment," Kaine says.

According to the survey of more than 950 drivers, which Coles has dismissed as a "push poll", 73 percent of respondents carting freight for the Wesfarmers-owned brand pointed to retail as the major cause of dangerous pressures.

A significant number of drivers reported feeling pressured to skip breaks, exceed safe driving hours, speed and carry overweight loads.

"We’ll keep trying to engage with Coles and hopefully that will occur. That is a key point of distinction between them and the other major retailer Woolies," Kaine says.

"Woolies has been willing to listen to the issues, to hear us on the issues and have gone so far as to say that they will work with the [Road Safety Remuneration] Tribunal (RSRT). That’s in stark contrast to Coles.

"That doesn’t mean that Woolies’ operations are perfect or there’s nothing to deal with but it’s a much better starting point."

The TWU praised Woolworths earlier this year after it pledged to work with the tribunal, whose role includes setting remuneration and remuneration-related conditions for truck drivers.

Kaine says the union has focused much of its attention on Coles because it is the one most drivers complain about and it continues to ignore union attempts to engage with it.

Coles declined to comment beyond the statement it provided following the release of the survey.

It says it regularly briefs authorities on the company’s approach to chain of responsibility and that "large and reputable providers including Linfox and Toll" manage Coles’ transport operations.

It is a statement that irks the TWU, which says a lot of the work is outsourced to smaller operators under significant supply chain pressure.

"That’s a really misleading position to put," Kaine says of Coles’ claim.

He says the union is currently trying to pin down the exact percentage of retail delivery work the major transporters outsource but estimates the figure is more than 50 percent.

Kaine says existing chain of responsibility laws, which cover speed, fatigue and overloading, are not enough to address the pressures drivers are under because they do not factor in remuneration.

A 2008 National Transport Commission (NTC) study, which acted as the basis for the establishment of the RSRT, reported a link between low rates of pay and poor safety in trucking.

"You could describe the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal as an opportunity to put in place chain of responsibility for economic matters, which is really getting to the cause of what needs to be done," Kaine says.

He believes the tribunal’s ability to set rates and conditions to ensure employee drivers and owner-drivers receive enough money to make a living may aid in recruiting new entrants to the industry.

"I think there’s definitely the potential for that to happen," Kaine says.

Almost half (46 percent) of all drivers who completed the union survey were aged 50 years or older, which Kaine says is "a terrible concern".

"It gives you all the confirmation that’s needed to show that attracting new entrants to the industry is very difficult but not surprising," he says.

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