Linfox wins long-running TWU allowances case

By: Brad Gardner


Union claims Linfox truck drivers hauling freight for Woolworths have been underpaid.

Linfox wins long-running TWU allowances case
The TWU alleges Linfox truck drivers hauling freight for Woolworths were underpaid between 2008 and 2011.

 

A union-led case against Linfox alleging underpayments to truck drivers over a three-year period has been thrown out on jurisdictional grounds.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) ruled that it had no power to determine if the drivers based at Linfox’s Warnervale site in New South Wales should have received allowances between November 2008 and May 2011 for driving heavy vehicle combinations measuring 19m in length.

According to the Transport Workers Union (TWU), clauses in now superseded workplace agreements from 2007 and 2009 guaranteed drivers an hourly allowance of $1.28 and a minimum of $5.13 per day for driving trucks longer than 18.29m.

It told the commission that union representatives had pursued Linfox since 2009 over the alleged underpayments, but received no response. Linfox argued the drivers were not entitled to the allowance.

FWC commissioner Michael Roberts says the dispute existed "in the quite distant past" and that the commission lacked the authority to decide the past rights and liabilities of the TWU and Linfox under the 2007 and 2009 agreements.

"Even if I am wrong on this point, determination of the issue between the parties would, in effect, be a determination relating to alleged underpayments by Linfox," Roberts says.

"That also would be beyond jurisdiction."

The case centred on drivers hauling freight in 19m semi-trailers for Woolworths stores on the NSW central coast and in the Hunter region.

Both 2007 and 2009 workplace agreements included a clause from the now expired Transport Industry (State) Award 2000 stipulating an allowance if a vehicle exceeded 2.9m in width or 18.29m in length or 4.3m in height.

Linfox general manager of retail Matt Sheridan says drivers were not entitled to the allowance because they were not carrying ‘special loads’ or exceeding maximum allowable vehicle dimensions, as the clause contemplated.

"Permits in my experience are required when a vehicle and its load exceed the maximum dimensions of the vehicle…This was never the case with any of the Linfox vehicles the subject of these proceedings," Sheridan says.

"In NSW, the standard maximum total length of any semi-trailer combination was and is 19m."

Sheridan says drivers were required to carry notices, which allowed for a variation to the internal dimensions of the trucks but not an extension of the maximum allowable length.

"It should be noted that it was not possible, by way of notice, to operate a semi-trailer combination in excess of 19m; Permit wold have been required…Linfox did not operate any vehicles under permit within the Warnervale site," he says.

However, former Warnervale TWU delegate and driver Stephen Williams lodged a submission with the FWC stating the trailers the drivers hauled were plated with over-dimensional tags and drivers were required to carry over-dimensional permits.

"The issue has been raised with Linfox on several occasions but has not been dealt with," his submission says.

Along with arguing the FWC should not be ruling on an underpayment claim, Linfox accused the union of abusing process by launching a dispute five years after it was raised.

 

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