Investigation must go higher than Lennons, union says

TWU calls for authorities to target the entire supply chain as part of investigation into Lennons Transport

By Brad Gardner | February 23, 2012

An investigation into Lennons Transport needs to go higher than the trucking company, the union says, as police discover another company truck abandoned.

The Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) launched a chain of responsibility investigation into Lennons yesterday after its officers and NSW Police raided its premises and pulled over drivers to carry out compliance checks in response to a fatal crash involving the firm.

Inspections uncovered alleged speed tampering of six trucks, while a Lennons Transport driver pulled over in NSW was charged with drug possession and breaking fatigue laws.

"The police, the occupational health and safety authorities, the roads and traffic authorities should go all the way through the supply chain to the client that has the economic power to change these things and ultimately has the economic responsibility," TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon told ATN.

"There is a large minority of transport operators that knowingly have drivers breaching driving hours, safe work arrangements… [and] it’s inevitably, overwhelmingly, caused by the economic pressures of clients."

However, Sheldon adds that authorities will be restricted in their ability to hold customers to account because the chain of responsibility does not extend to pay rates.

Sheldon says the case of Lennons is another indication why the Road Safety Remuneration Bill currently before Federal Parliament needs to be passed. The Bill will create a tribunal with the powers to set remuneration conditions across the supply chain, such as mandating paid waiting times.

Sheldon has been a vociferous critic of the major retailers, Coles and Woolworths, accusing them of using their clout to screw down rates and impose unrealistic deadlines.

He says Lennons, a general freight carrier, hauls retail goods.

"In a number of instances they are working for transport companies that have retail contracts amongst other contracts across general transport," Sheldon says.

The union heavyweight says existing laws such as chain of responsibility for speed and fatigue do not effectively address the economic power of clients.

"Quite frankly, when was the last time there was a prosecution of a client on the basis of deadlines?" Sheldon says.

A large contingent of RMS and police officers converged on Lennons’ Enfield premises early yesterday morning, while roadside inspectors across Australia stopped trucks already on the road.

NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay says authorities found a box containing three non-compliant wheel pulse devices at the Lennons depot.

"Around the drive shaft there's a pulse wheel that sends a message to a speed limiter preventing the truck from travelling in excess of the speed limit," Police Superintendent Stuart Smith told ABC Radio today.

"When they change that particular wheel it allows the truck to travel far in excess of the speed limit and certainly without evidence that the truck's been over-speeding.

"There were other devices that we did locate and we've taken a volume of evidence."

NSW Police and the RMS launched a joint operation – dubbed Operation Marshall – following a triple-fatal crash involving a Lennons truck on January 24.

Police say a B-double crossed an embankment on the Hume Highway and ploughed into a car, killing the driver and two passengers. The 33-year-old truck driver was charged over the deaths on Tuesday, and authorities raided Lennons the following day.

The driver will appear in court on May 16 charged with three counts of dangerous driving occasioning death.

Company records have been seized to determine the role of managers and company directors in the safety breaches.

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson wants a state-wide investigation into all trucking companies, but Premier Barry O’Farrell says he will await the findings of the Lennons matter before making a decision.

CLARIFICATION: The original article stated Lennons counts Toll among its customers. While Lennons states this on its website, Toll says it has not used the company for any work since January. It says it is contacting Lennons to remove the reference to Toll from its website.

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