Retailers in TWU crosshairs over truck driver standards


Union signals widespread action as enterprise agreements expire

Retailers in TWU crosshairs over truck driver standards
Michael Kaine makes the union's call to arms

 

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) flags a "winter of discontent, followed by a spring offensive" against major retailers as enterprise agreements for thousands of transport workers expire in the coming months.

Using the backdrop of the TWU national council in Darwin, the union pledges to target the likes of Amazon, Apple and Aldi, as well as domestic brands IGA, Kmart and Bunnings, "in a bid to make trucking safer and fairer".

The union is serving claims on more than 50 major retailers, warning of their responsibility to ensure they are paying transport operators enough to guarantee goods are being delivered safely, with the plan for action and protests coming amid the expiration of many enterprise agreements.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine says lifting standards and saving lives is at the heart of the plan, with "operators already revealing they can’t meet modest pay claims because of the squeeze by retailers".

Kaine says retailers "who think they can keep squeezing transport companies and their workforces . . . are about to face a winter of discontent, followed by a spring offensive".


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"There are far too many truck crash deaths where fatigue, faulty brakes, loads not strapped down properly and even stimulants to stay awake are a factor," he adds.

"At the heart of this is an industry on its knees because the major retailers at the top continually squeeze transport operators and drivers to the point that safety is thrown out the window.

"Retailers like Amazon and Aldi can boast about big profits but Australians are dying because if it and we won’t cop it anymore."

TWU cites Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) data that identifies 885 deaths in truck crashes over the past five years, while 183 transport workers have died on the job in the same period, according to Safe Work Australia – the highest for any industry.

 "We will work with retailers which want to see change so that no transport worker in their supply chains feels the pressure to drive a faulty truck, speed, work long hours or skip their rest breaks," Kaine says.

"But for those who are not interested in addressing the slaughter on our roads and which refuse to accept their role, workers across transport operators will unite to take action, and we will not relent."

One party the TWU has buried the hatched with is Coles, which signed a charter in December 2020 on standards in road transport and the gig economy.

The union now seeks similar outcomes from others, including Aldi, which had a Federal Court case against the union rejected for speaking out about safety in the supermarket’s supply chain.

Other items on the TWU agenda includes seeking legislative change to lift standards in road transport, including the gig economy, in the form of an independent tribunal with the powers to investigate risks to safety and make binding orders addressing them.

The gig economy threat, including within freight transport, has been at the core of TWU’s recent focus, as key proponent of the gig industry, Amazon, recently announced a 224 per cent increase in profits to $US 8 billion in the last quarter.

Other retailers the union aims to target have also globally boomed since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, TWU notes, with Apple’s  profits more than doubling to US$23.6 billion while Aldi’s annual revenue in 2019 was US$109 billion.

"The likes of Amazon and Uber seek to replace good, secure, union jobs with piece work on an app where workers get hired on below minimum rates, and fired without warning by an algorithm," Kaine says.

"We have a plan to stop them.

"The last year proved – if anyone needed the proof – that transport workers are essential to our economy.

"Truck drivers have operated at Christmas-level demand for over 12 months to keep our shelves stocked and retailers have reaped huge profits from their hard work.

"But the financial squeeze on transport continues to kill truck drivers at a drastically higher rate than any other industry."

The TWU national council saw union-aligned federal senators Tony Sheldon and Glenn Sterle in attendance; the latter has been leading the senate inquiry into the importance of a viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport industry.

 

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