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An alliance of unions representing transport, farm and retail workers will work with one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, Coles, to address worker exploitation and risks to safety in the Australian fresh food industry.
Coles has committed to work with the Transport Workers’ Union, the Australian Workers’ Union and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association to pursue safe and fair conditions for workers across its fresh produce and meat supply chains. The three unions will co-operate to organise transport, farm and retail workers to address worker exploitation and risks to health and safety. The move has been announced at TWU National Council in Cairns today.
It follows two agreements with the TWU last year that cover the Coles transport supply chain and delivery work in the on-demand economy. The agreement promotes transparency and end-to-end compliance with the Coles supply chains.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said: “Worker exploitation in any part of the Australian fresh food supply chain is not acceptable. Underpayment of wages and superannuation and unsafe working conditions must be addressed. Coles has been working with the TWU to ensure safety and fairness in road transport and it has shown its commitment to continue to work with its supply chains to ensure that all workers are treated in accordance with Australian workplace legislation.”
Coles head of quality and responsible sourcing James Whittaker said: “Coles is committed to the safety and fair treatment of all the workers in our supply chains, as per our Ethical Sourcing Policy and Supplier Requirements. Our local Australian suppliers and workers are critical to the provision of fresh, quality produce and meat to our customers. We have made significant progress in the past 10 years on our Ethical Sourcing journey, and now look forward to working with these three unions.”
AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said: “Workers in the fresh food industry can be vulnerable and we look forward to working with Coles and the TWU and SDA to protect the rights of these workers.”
SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said: “Workers in retail stores and retail warehouses currently enjoy protections under union-negotiated Enterprise Agreements. We want to ensure all workers in the fresh food industry are aware of their rights and have the power to exercise those rights. This alliance will mean more workers can be reached in the supply chain to ensure their voices are heard and the exploitation stops.’
This work with Coles is part of an ongoing program of engagement with Australian retailers to pursue safe and fair conditions throughout the supply chain and the announcement last year by the TWU and SDA of an Online Retail and Delivery Alliance to organise workers in Amazon.
A Fair Work Ombudsman inquiry last November highlighted the need for compliance and accountability throughout the fresh produce and meat processing supply chains. Inspectors recovered more than $1 million in unpaid wages for over 2,500 workers.
The TWU is demanding that fatal truck crashes be investigated as workplace deaths when a truck driver is killed, following the death of two truck drivers in a head-on collision on the Augusta Highway in South Australia just before Easter.
Police are investigating driver fatigue as a possible cause for the fiery crash.
Road transport is Australia’s deadliest industry. A truck driver is 13 times more likely to die at work than any other worker.
“We are deeply saddened to lose two truck drivers and in such dreadful circumstances. Our thoughts are with the family and friends who received the tragic news this Easter weekend. We urge the Federal Government to ensure no stone is left unturned in finding the cause of this crash and prosecuting where necessary. Fatigue is being investigated as a possible cause, in most cases this is a direct result from pressure at the top of transport supply chain. To provide justice to the drivers we’ve lost, the families that mourn and the road users at risk over this busy period, it is only right that all possible factors be considered and punishment served where it’s due,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said.
When a truck driver is killed on the road workplace death investigations are forfeited, assuming a forensic crash investigation will determine the cause. These investigations fail to explore all possible causes beyond the mechanics of what happened at the time of the crash.
“Truck driver deaths have bypassed the vigilant investigations that rightfully follow deaths on building sites, in factories, in the mines. A truck driver’s workplace is on the road. When the worst happens, we must look beyond the debris and ask the important questions: was this driver fatigued or under pressure to meet a deadline? Was there enough money in the pot to ensure their vehicle was properly maintained? Until we start asking these questions and laying blame where it’s due, truck drivers will never be safe on our roads,” Kaine continued.
Safe Work Australia refers to a workplace as any place where work is carried out for a business or undertaking, including vehicles.*
Police have rated the crash risk three times higher over the Easter break.
“The skewed belief that speedy delivery is more important than road safety is exacerbated at busy periods like the Easter break. We urge the wealthy companies at the top of supply chains to ease the pressure on truck drivers and ensure there is enough money in the pot for trucks to be properly maintained and goods to be delivered safely,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said.
The Transport Workers’ Union has welcomed the Labor Party commitment to establishing a system to tackle what it calls the downward spiral in the road transport industry.
The Labor Party National Conference heard that since the Coalition Government abolished a road safety watchdog in 2016, 469 people have been killed in truck crashes. In August a Monash University study confirmed again that trucking is Australia’s deadliest job, with drivers 13 times more likely to die at work than any other profession.
The commitment to improving road safety will see the party engage with the TWU and key industry players in developing a system of safe standards that will apply to all parties in the transport supply chain and raise standards across the industry.
“This is an important day for our industry because we can be assured that under a Labor government, there will be a priority to make transport safer and fairer. The industry is on its knees because of the way wealthy companies at the top demand that their goods be delivered for the bare minimum. In trucking this means constant financial pressure on transport operators and drivers. This sees drivers pushed to work long hours, speed and skip rest breaks and it means vital maintenance on trucking fleets is delayed. This is why transport is Australia’s deadliest industry and why there are such high numbers of deaths and injuries in truck crashes. Today the transport industry has a brighter future, with a plan for sustainable businesses, quality jobs and safer roads,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.
Truck driver John Waltis told the Industrial Deaths Inquiry earlier this year that he’s attended more than 50 funerals for truck driver colleagues.
“I’ve seen the consequences of fatigue, the pressures to meet deadlines, and crashes due to mechanical faults. The devastating effects of these pressures goes beyond the 51 funerals I’ve attended. I’ve consoled far too many wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. It’s time for change,” Mr Waltis said.
When it comes to insolvencies, transport also faces difficulties. Data from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission shows that 469 companies entered into external administration in the transport, postal and warehousing industries between July 2016 and June 2017. The main reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow.
Labor will also tackle the exploitation of transport workers in the on-demand economy.
“For on-demand workers the plan for Safe Rates means an end to exploitation and eighteenth century working conditions via an app. These workers, regardless of their label, will be able to seek rights and collectively agitate for conditions that will bring fairness, safety and stability to the industry,” Mr Kaine added.
A survey of riders has shown three out of every four riders are paid below minimum rates. Almost 50% of riders had either been injured on the job or knew someone who had. A Melbourne delivery rider recently won a landmark unfair dismissal case against Foodora.
- Truck crash deaths statistics
- Safe Rates
In April 2016 the Federal Government abolished a system backing safe rates that was holding wealthy clients such as retailers, banks, oil companies and ports to account for low cost contracts, which do not allow their goods to be delivered safely. This was despite the Government’s own reports showing a link between road safety and the pay rates of drivers and that the safe rates system would reduce truck crashes by 28% [PricewaterhouseCoopers “Review of the Road Safety Remuneration System Final Report January 2016” (PWC Review 2016 – published by the Commonwealth Department of Employment on 1 April, 2016)].
- Evidence of pressure
A Macquarie University study in February criticised a ‘critical gap” since the Government abolished the regulation that the independent tribunal represented, “that can eliminate existing incentives for overly tight scheduling, unpaid work, and rates that effectively are below cost recovery”.
The study also showed that:
- One in 10 truck drivers work over 80 hours per week.
- One in six owner drivers say drivers can’t refuse an unsafe load
- 42% of owner drivers said the reason drivers do not report safety breaches was because of a fear of losing their jobs
A Safe Work Australia report in July 2015 showed:
- 31% of transport employers say workers ignore safety rules to get the job done
- 20% of transport employers accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than 2% in other industries.
- 20% of transport industry employers break safety rules to meet deadlines – this compares with just 6% of employers in other industries.
- Senate report on road safety
In October the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee approved a report recommending industry-led talks to set up an independent body on “supply chain standards and accountability as well as sustainable, safe rates for the transport industry”.
- Transport company insolvencies: the full ASIC report.
NatRoad president Allan Thornley has met with Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety Senator Sterle. Discussions encompassed the abolished Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, the industry’s payment terms and working together to get more young people into the road transport industry.
Allan Thornley said: “It’s critical that political parties of all colours support the toughening of chain of responsibility laws. We can never have another RSRT, which was ill conceived. Any future regulation in this space needs careful consideration to achieve bipartisan political and industry support.
“Senator Sterle was keen that the industry work with him and other members of the Australian Labor Party to change the face of our regulation,” said Mr Thornley.
Senator Sterle said: “I will always be a champion for the transport industry. The RSRT as a model didn’t work. We won’t rush into a new model that doesn’t work. I’m going to bring in safe rates, I’m going to do this and I’m going to do it properly,” he said.
Discussion encompassed a number of areas where NatRoad and Senator Sterle were in agreement. These matters included:
- Making 30 day payments a mandated minimum.
- Introducing a trade recognised skill of heavy vehicle driving.
- Establishing a plan to get more young people to join the industry and increasing the industry’s diversity.
- Setting up a working group to look at any mandated rates scheme before a new system is put in place.
Allan Thornley said: “We also reached agreement on the fact that enforcement of the law is critical. The industry must hold regulators to account. Parties must know that enforcement up the chain is likely and therefore regulators must allocate enough resources to enforcing the new CoR laws and any new regulation. Truck drivers should be able to report breaches of laws that impact on their safety without adverse consequences.
“We want to continue to engage with dedicated industry supporters like Senator Sterle,” Mr Thornley concluded.
Right direction, wrong approach: union
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the owners’ organisation could deliver many solutions to the industry but instead keeps talking about what it opposes.
“NatRoad says that it wants 30-day payments mandated. Then it must explain to its members and the wider industry why it opposed a system that was delivering this for owner drivers and that was examining an application from the TWU to extend this guarantee to all transport operators. Transport operators would have 30-day payments by now, instead of remaining at the mercy of big corporations that refuse to pay for work carried out for up to 120 days.
“Since the RSRT has been pulled down nothing has been achieved by the likes of NatRoad to improve our industry. There has been no increase in rates and unpaid work, waiting time and financial insecurity are still major problems. Transport operators are still being forced into insolvency at higher rates than most other industries because the margins are so tight. In the 2017 financial year, 469 companies entered into external administration in the transport, postal and warehousing industries. Of those, 65% were businesses that employed fewer than five employees. The main reason for the insolvencies was inadequate cash flow.
“Companies and their clients still aren’t held to account when drivers get pressured into gruelling work practices. In fact, clients have in the last two years been given a green light to heap the pressure on even more. Aldi has been emboldened to take the union to the Federal Court to try and stop drivers speaking out about rates and conditions in their supply chain.
“Of course the slaughter is also still continuing. Deaths from truck crashes are still far too high while truck drivers are still more likely to be killed at work than any other profession.
“The push for Safe Rates is simply about fairness.
“It says transport operators and drivers have the right to earn a living without being pushed into bankruptcy by wealthy companies at the top which pay their chief executives millions. It says drivers have the right to be paid for all the work they do and to be safe in their jobs. It says all road users have the right not to be killed and injured on the roads because safety got cut because of costs. It says the wealthy companies at the top can no longer escape the responsibility of their effects on our industry.”
Coles has announced it will contract work to Toll, which will make road travel safer, said TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine.
The Coles announcement will see the retailer moving significant parts of its retail work to Toll in Queensland and Victoria. A final decision will be made regarding retail work in South Australia. Toll has made commitments to hire drivers already carrying out this work for other companies, once skills and standards tests are met.
“What we need is a focus on the entire transport supply chain. This is why we want to see major companies taking the move Coles has done in choosing transport operators with the best practices, excellent safety standards and fair working conditions for their transport needs. This will ensure quality jobs in transport and safer roads,” said Mr Kaine.
In May Coles signed an agreement with the TWU to make its transport supply chains safer and to ensure safety and fairness in its on-demand economy work.
Trucking is Australia’s deadliest industry with a recent Monash University study highlighting the health and safety hazards for truck drivers. The study states truck drivers are 13 times more likely to die at work than any other profession, Mr Kaine said.
A report by the National Transport Commission said practices by the retail industry affecting road transport “can play a direct and significant role in causing hazardous practices”. It adds: “There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued, and drug use”.
The TWU has also signed a charter with Woolworths that allows for supply chain auditing and plans to improve safety.
“Aldi continues to refuse to acknowledge its role in making our roads safer and has launched a federal court case to stop truck drivers and the TWU from protesting and speaking out about rates and safety in its supply chain,” Mr Kaine said. “Hearings in the case are set for April.”
Toll launches global Charter in Australia
Following Toll’s agreement with the global union ITF (Workers are valued: Toll signs worldwide union agreement), a global Charter ensuring safe and fair working standards across Toll Group’s global network has been launched in Australia.
The Charter will cover all Toll employees across its 1,200 sites in 50 countries, follows negotiations between Toll, the Transport Workers’ Union, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its other affiliated unions.
Through the Charter, launched at TWU National Council in Adelaide, Toll has committed to abide by international labour standards. The ‘global charter of principles’ outlines guiding principles by which crucial decisions will be made around the working conditions for Toll workers focusing on health and safety standards, business strategies and initiatives, improvements in working conditions in developing countries and the development of projects that increase industry standards and safety.
Under the charter, Toll, which represents 44,000 workers in road transport and distribution, logistics, supply chain and warehousing, has committed to making a significant investment in the development and implementation of a global project that will raise standards and safety in its main sectors.
Coles & TWU sign agreement to ensure safety and fairness in the Coles supply chain and on-demand economy
Coles and the TWU have signed two important statements of principles that will ensure safe and fair conditions for workers in the Coles supply chain and the on-demand economy.
The first statement, signed at TWU National Council in Adelaide by Coles managing director John Durkan and TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, includes five principles to ensure safety and fairness for transport workers within the Coles supply chain.
These principles include: the ongoing promotion of safety and fairness; transparency on supply chain information; ensuring workers are treated fairly and have the right opportunity to contribute to a collective voice; education, training and consultation of workers on safety, and initiatives to ensure safety in the industry more broadly. The five principles will underpin a Charter between Coles and the TWU.
A separate Statement of Principles about workers in the on-demand economy recognises that workers in the on-demand economy are involved in a rapidly changing workplace environment, but this doesn’t mean artificial terms for workers should limit their access to appropriate entitlements such as leave, proper payment, superannuation, safe working conditions and representation.
“This is a major positive for all transport workers – whether in traditional industries or the on-demand economy. Coles and the TWU are saying through these principles that there is no higher priority than safety and fairness in the Coles supply chain and the on-demand economy,” said TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon.
“This indicates to the community what can be achieved with good corporate citizens on board,” he added.
Coles managing director John Durkan said: “Our business, and the businesses of our thousands of Australian suppliers, rely on the skill and the efforts of the workers in our supply chain. As our business evolves to meet the constantly-changing needs of our customers, we are also increasingly engaged with the on-demand economy.
“The people who work in these sectors make an invaluable contribution not just economically, but to the community as a whole. We are proud to make this commitment that their safety and fair treatment will always be a top priority for Coles.”
Transport workers are up to five times more likely to be injured at work than any other Australian worker, according to new Monash research, with rail drivers in particular 30 times more likely to develop a mental health condition than any other worker.
These are just two of many significant findings unearthed in the first report of the National Transport Industry Health and Wellbeing Study, released today by the Insurance Work and Health Group at Monash University.
The research, supported by Linfox Logistics and the Transport Workers Union, comes from the first stage of a detailed national study looking into the health of workers in the transport industry.
The Australian transport and logistic industry is very diverse, and encompasses drivers, logistics, storage and warehousing workers, managers and executives.
Alex Collie, professor and director of the Insurance Work and Health Group, said transport workers were subject to a unique set of health risks in their working environment, including sedentary jobs, long working hours and shift work, isolation, fatigue and sleep deprivation, among others.
“This study presents a national picture of the health of people working in the transport and logistics industry. Prior studies have focused on safety and on specific groups of workers. We used a large and detailed national database of work injury claims to examine a range of different injuries and diseases that affect workers across the whole industry,” Professor Collie said.
“Our ultimate aim is to develop programs and services that can prevent illness and injury in the transport sector, and help people recover and return to work when they become sick.”
There are strong links between people’s health and their ability to work, Professor Collie said, so understanding and improving the health of an industry which employs 1.2 million people is important for the workers, their employers and the Australian economy.
The Transport Workers Union national assistant secretary Michael Kaine said the report’s findings show that the “pressures on transport workers, including long hours away from family, chronic fatigue and the stresses of meeting deadlines, are clearly taking their toll”.
“It should serve as yet another example of the need for a check on the transport supply chain, to ensure that the major clients at the top are being held to account for the pressure they exert on the industry and its workforce,” he said.
Linfox Logistics general manager of HR Lauren Pemberton said working with Monash and TWU to investigate driver health and safety was the “next logical step in improving our staff health programs”.
The TWU says hundreds of truck drivers and their supporters protested on an April weekend in all major capitals as a new survey shows 93% of drivers want to see changes to make transport safer and less pressured.
Drivers sat on Oxford Street in Sydney and marched in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth in a stark message to the Federal Government, which shut down a road safety watchdog two years ago, “allowing wealthy retailers like Aldi to financially squeeze transport”, the TWU said.
The driver survey shows almost 93% of drivers also say pressure on them is continuing or increasing, with drivers listing the financial squeeze from major supermarkets and manufacturers, bad roads, unsafe truck stops and unrealistic deadlines major sources of pressure. Over 1,000 drivers responded to the survey, which was conducted following police blitzes on trucks after a spate of crashes.
The survey comes two years after the Federal Government shut down the watchdog that was investigating safety in trucking and holding major companies to account for low cost contracts which means their goods cannot be delivered safely.
“Two years ago the Federal Government scrapped scrutiny and accountability on the major manufacturers and retailers like Aldi over poor rates in their supply chains. This financial pressure means that trucks are not being maintained and drivers are being pushed to speed, drive long hours and skip mandatory rest breaks. This is devastating families across Australia because of truck crashes and it means drivers are copping all the blame for problems in the industry,” TWU acting national secretary Michael Kaine said.
“The only response from the Federal Government to the spike in deaths has been to increase the number of speed cameras to catch drivers and to have police fine them over breaches. This will not solve the problems in the industry and it will not cut the number of crashes. Unless wealthy clients are held to account for low cost contracts the problem in this industry will only worsen,” Mr Kaine added.
Industry not convinced
The TWU’s traditional enemies the (large) industry body the Australian Logistics Council and the transport owners’ Australian Trucking Association (ATA) have predictably come out against the idea of reinstating the RSRT.
The ATA has outright dismissed calls for its reinstatement, ATA chairman Geoff Crouch saying the TWU claims there has been 92 per cent increase in truck crashes in NSW since the watchdog was shut down, but there is no correlation between the two.
“In 2017, the number of deaths in NSW from crashes involving articulated trucks like semitrailers increased dramatically but we know most of the increase in deaths was in multi-vehicle crashes, 80 per cent of which were not the fault of the truck driver,” Mr Crouch said.
“In the same period, no other states or territories experienced an increase in fatal crashes involving articulated trucks, with the majority seeing significant decreases.
“Transport owners and operators have told us the devastating impact of the RSRT included financial hardship, increased debt, reduced equipment values, widespread uncertainty and significant stress on families, relationships and mental health,” Mr Crouch said.
“The ATA backs recent comments from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry that say reinstating the RSRT is a backwards step. The transport industry is essential to the fabric that holds the Australian economy together and they deserve better.
Similarly, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) said suggestions that the former Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) should be reconstituted within the Fair Work Commission are part of a continuing industrial campaign that will do nothing to improve heavy vehicle safety.
“Improving heavy vehicle safety is an enormously important national objective – and it should not be conflated with a continuing industrial campaign within some sections of the industry,” said ALC managing director Michael Kilgariff.
“ALC continues to believe that the most effective way to enhance safety in the heavy vehicle industry is by achieving greater compliance with, and enforcement of, the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) provisions in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).”
“These CoR provisions will be significantly strengthened and enhanced by changes due to come into effect later this year, and our focus should be on ensuring compliance with those changes. That is why ALC has been working in partnership with the Australian Trucking Association for the past year to develop an industry-wide Master Code for heavy vehicle safety, capable of becoming a registered industry code of practice under the HVNL,” Mr Kilgariff noted.
The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) is warning that a huge increase in port access fees by DP World Australia and Hutchinson will result in higher injury and fatality rates in trucking and the loss of jobs.
The Union has called for ship owners to bear the costs, as clients at the top of the supply chain.
The fees at Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane ports will heap further financial stress on transport where margins are already tight. The price hike in Melbourne will go from $3.45 to $32.50 per container; in Sydney a new charge of $21.16 will apply for the first time; while in Brisbane fees will go up 30 per cent.
Drivers will come under even more pressure to work long hours, speed and skip mandatory rest breaks while vital maintenance on vehicles will get delayed, the Union wrote in a press statement.
“We are already seeing an increase in deaths and injuries at the moment – last year one out of every three workers killed was a transport worker while deaths from rigid and articulated trucks went up,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon. “We do not need more pressure on transport, we need accountability among the clients which are ultimately responsible for safety in the supply chain.”
The TWU also criticised the imbalance in payment terms for trucking companies – DP World insists on payment within seven days while trucking business can wait up to 120 days for payment. “The Federal Government abolished payment terms for truck drivers when it tore down the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal last year. Its silence is deafening on this burden which is now being placed on drivers at the ports,” said Sheldon.
The TWU fears the price hike will put thousands of owner-drivers out of business. “These small trucking businesses are already subsisting on tight margins and they have among the highest rates of bankruptcies for any businesses. This fee should not be passed on to those at the bottom of the supply chain,” Sheldon added.
The TWU supports industry calls for the ACCC to investigate the fees.
“The TWU will support any owner-drivers taking direct action against the ports over the coming weeks in a similar way to the port blockades of the 1980s and 1990s. We will support drivers standing up to this level of extortion,” Sheldon added.