Industry and government scramble to make sense of Stage 4

By: Rob McKay

Devils emerge in the detail related to transport warehouses, supermarket DCs and worker permits

Industry and government scramble to make sense of Stage 4
Peter Anderson


Perhaps more now than at the start of the Covid-19 economic crisis, Melbourne’s Stage 4 lockdown rules are exposing the complexities of a mature first-world economy – with freight’s efforts to comply put in sharp relief.

At question presently is what sort of expectations relate to transport and logistics (T&L) warehousing and supermarket distribution centres, given restrictions the Victorian government released on Tuesday in the Stage 4 Restrictions document.

The document states: "Supermarket distribution centres will implement a 33 per cent reduction of peak workforce will be implemented upon commencement of the directions."

However, for the Transport, Postal and Warehousing sector, it is stated: "Warehousing and cold storage risk mitigations – High Risk COVID Safe Plan required."

It is understood a meeting between industry and government is convened for late this afternoon and DCs are likely to be a sticking point.

"We cannot have a situation where supermarket distribution centres have their output reduced by a third because of workforce reductions because it will translate into food and grocery shortages in the supply chain," Victorian Transport Association (VTA) CEO Peter Anderson tells ATN, with supermarket DCs one of a number of issues he sees as coalescing at a particularly bad  time .

"We’re advocating for the removal of this requirement for supermarket DCs so that people can have confidence shelves won’t be unnecessarily depleted.

"We are also advocating for greater clarity in the permitting system and for the unworkable situation with the South Australian border to be fixed.

"Seven-day Covid testing isn’t possible for heavy vehicle drivers in Victoria so the South Australian authorities need to gear up and do this testing quickly and efficiently on their side of the border, or they need to make seven-day testing a recommendation instead of a requirement, just as NSW has done.

"When it comes to supply chain continuity, the appalling behaviour of the Maritime Workers’ Union and their decision to conduct industrial action at the wharves must be called out.

"Once again the MUA has shown how out of step it is with the community and is proving that its leadership is appalling.

"Supply chains are under enough pressure as it is and this opportunistic industrial action takes us a step closer to wharves closing and supply chains being needlessly smashed."

The VTA points to state government guidance to the transport, warehousing and postal sector, here.

It is to be hoped the meeting brings clarity to the situation as elements in the industry are being wrong-footed by messages that can change diametrically in 24 hours. 

Read how Victoria’s Stage 4 lockdown rules in Melbourne emerged, here

The experience is leading industry observers to suspect that, as with the New South Wales border closures and at a time when governments are being criticised for not acting quickly enough, politicians are trying to implement health authorities’ advice speedily while departments are left to work out practical details in following days with industries at risk of huge fines and major disruption.

National port haulage group Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA), which sought an assurance from the state transport department that supermarket DC rules were not relevant to broader T&L warehouses and advised its companies so after gaining it during a government/industry teleconference.

The next day, it was informed that this is not the case, which leads CTAA director Neil Chambers to describe the process as a "moveable feast".

ATN has also sought clarity from the state government and is awaiting a response after its queries to the Department of Transport were passed on to the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, "as this falls within their portfolio".

Both organisations are concerned about the state government’s Permitted Worker Permits (PWPs), which shield workers who are otherwise not subject to Stage 4 lockdowns.

Taking account of the practical application of the very generic government form to the container logistics sector and the possibility of changes down the track, the CTAA has the following advice:

Sub-contractors and labour hire staff

Many transport operators engaging sub-contracted drivers are requiring the sub-contractor to complete their own Permitted Worker Permit, rather than complete it on their behalf.  In many cases, the sub-contractor is their own small business operator (Pty. Ltd. Company structure, etc.), so it is legitimate for them to complete the permit on their own behalf.

Similarly, with labour hire staff, transport operators are asking the labour hire company to complete the Permit for their casual employees, rather than the prime contractor doing this.

Employee work location (if different from the employer’s address)

In relation to truck drivers, some companies are listing the company home depot base as the work location (if appropriate).

This section of the form also dictates that if the employee has: "more than one (work location), must be accompanied by a log recording each work location, and date and time of attendance."

From a container transport logistics sector perspective, outlining this on the Permit form is impractical.

CTAA says it has "discussed with Freight Victoria that the practical approach which should be applied if an authorised officer (police or other) asks a driver for a list of the places they have been to or are going, then the driver can produce their run-sheets (in paper or electronic format), or, in the case of a longer distance driver, their regulated Work Diary".

Hours of Work tables

Is relation to these tables, it is difficult in some circumstances for you to predict six weeks’ in advance the rostered arrangements for staff, particularly casual employees and truck drivers.

Some employers are completing the form by writing on it that the spread of rostered hours may be for x number of hours between x time and x time, rather than trying to complete each sub-box on the form.

Again, if authorised officers are trying to determine whether a person has a reason to travel (particularly in curfew hours), they can contact the employer if unsure.

Meanwhile, with governments issuing a plethora of forms and demanding they be submitted at short notice, transport services firms are also reflecting the added pressures.

"Strict compliance requirements must be in place for businesses to operate under Stage 4 restrictions," Safesense Workplace Safety founder, safety consultant and ATN columnist Denise Zumpe says.

"Yesterday became an administrative nightmare meeting the deadline for Permitted Worker Permits.

"The next deadline fast approaching is for a Covid Safe Plan.

"By 11.59 tomorrow night, businesses with five or more employees must have a Covid Safe Plan in place."

"A template and guidance documents are available, but businesses will be down to the wire again and the additional information for high risk environments still explicitly clear.

Zumpe says she has been bombarded with requests for help and has responded by adding a new, separate Covid Safe Workplace package the CoR Comply, chain of responsibility compliance system.  

Details can be found here.


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