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‘Put up or shut up’ call to TWU

The escalation in Transport Workers Union (TWU) rhetoric against the major supermarket chains has prompted a backlash from the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) and the companies themselves. TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon has accused Coles and Woolworths of having blood on their hands due to “pressuring” truck drivers “to meet impossible deadlines, making them queue for hours unpaid to load and unload at distribution centres and to deliver their goods for a pittance”.

By Rob McKay | May 11, 2012

The escalation in Transport Workers Union (TWU) rhetoric against the major supermarket chains has prompted a backlash from the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) and the companies themselves.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon has accused Coles and Woolworths of having blood on their hands due to “pressuring” truck drivers “to meet impossible deadlines, making them queue for hours unpaid to load and unload at distribution centres and to deliver their goods for a pittance”.

And the TWU led a series of demonstrations yesterday at Coles stores.

But the lack of proof to accompany the claims not impressed the peak logistics body that counts the major retailers amongst its membership.

“Both Woolworths and Coles are inaugural signatories to the Australian Logistics Council’s Retail Logistics Supply Chain Code of Practice which deals with issues such as waiting times which I understand is the focus of the TWU’s claims,” ALC CEO Michael Kilgariff says.

“The supermarkets are currently liable under Chain of Responsibility laws – as is everybody in the supply chain – for incidents that may occur anywhere else in the supply chain where it can be demonstrated that they somehow caused it to happen.

“If Tony Sheldon and the TWU have any evidence that the law is actually being broken, then they have a legal responsibility under Chain of Responsibility to ensure that the authorities are aware of where this is occurring so that prosecutions can commence.

“From January 1, 2013 Australia will have a Heavy Vehicle National Law, and so we will have a national approach to Chain of Responsibility.

“It is worth noting the Transport Workers Union has been more focussed on its Safe Rates campaign, rather than working with industry on the Heavy Vehicle National Law.”

Woolworths referred requests for a response to the ALC but Coles was not so reticent.

“We’re disappointed the TWU continues to make unsubstantiated claims about our transport practices,” a Coles spokesman says.

“We outsource our transport business to large and reputable providers, we take safe transport practices very seriously and in no way do our transport contracts force drivers into unsafe or illegal practices.

“We require our transport providers to comply with all road safety laws and regulations, and all our freight contracts include fatigue management programs.

“Contrary to the TWU’s claims, Coles’s delivery windows into our stores are two hours, which is aligned with retail industry practice, and there are no penalties for suppliers or carriers for missing a time slot into our DCs or stores.

“Coles is a co-founder of and current signatory to the Australian Logistics Council’s Retail Code of Practice and takes Chain of Responsibility very seriously as being core to its operating practices.”

Elsewhere, the ABC in Darwin quoted Woolworths Chairman James Strong as saying the TWU was indulging in sensationalism and “epithets”. And calling for a “rational discussion”.

Last week, The Australian newspaper reported that Coles Group General Manager George Dymond had sent a letter saying his firm was considering its legal options regarding the TWU’s “ongoing misinformation campaign”.

The Coles spokesman refused to comment on that report while the ALC says it is a matter for Coles.

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