Stand with road users, not with 'greedy retailers': TWU

TWU takes on Coles, accusing it of encouraging unsafe practices by imposing "arbitrary deadlines"

Stand with road users, not with 'greedy retailers': TWU
Stand with road users, not with 'greedy retailers': TWU

February 13, 2012

The Transport Workers Union is taking on Coles in its latest attempt to rally support for safe rates, with accusations it is encouraging unsafe driving practices.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon held a media event in Sydney today to harangue the retailer over the deadlines it imposes on trucking operators.

Sheldon accused it and other major retailers of driving down safety standards, and joined the wives of truck drivers to post a card to federal MPs and senators asking them to support the Road Safety Remuneration Bill

The Bill, if enacted, will create a tribunal within Fair Work Australia on July 1 to set pay rates and conditions for truck drivers.

"The huge pressures placed on drivers by big retail bullies in their relentless drive for profits and control over the entire industry is directly responsible for the safety crisis on Australian roads," Sheldon says.

"Over the coming weeks, we will be lobbying our federal MPs and senators, asking them to support this important bill. We are asking our politicians to stand shoulder to shoulder with Australian road users, and not with Coles and other greedy retailers."

A parliamentary inquiry into the Bill is scheduled to hold a public hearing on February 15. Sheldon says close to half of truck drivers in a recent union survey reported almost one day a week in unpaid waiting time.

Another 56 percent claimed they had to forego vehicle maintenance because of economic pressure, with 27 percent saying they felt they had to drive too fast. Almost 40 percent reported feeling pressured to drive longer than legally allowed.

"The system as it operates now, with its excessive pressures and perverse incentives, can encourage drivers to engage in unsafe road practices simply to meet arbitrary deadlines imposed by mega retailers like Coles," Sheldon says.

The Federal Government last year announced it would create a tribunal in response to a report from the National Transport Commission arguing a link between low rates of pay and poor safety.

Industry groups such as the Australian Logistics Council, NatRoad and the Australian Industry Group have disputed a link and believe government should focus on enforcing existing compliance and enforcement schemes such as chain of responsibility law.

"The decision by certain industry bodies, such as the Australian Logistics Council, to oppose a bill that has the support of the majority of their members, if not their puppet-masters in major retail, is deeply disappointing," Sheldon says.

"Truck drivers are the backbone of the Australian economy. They do not want to be millionaires or billionaires, they just want to put food on the table and support their families. They deserve a fair go, not to be relentlessly pressured by major retailers."

Sheldon says there is widespread support for the Bill and has named the Victorian Transport Association (VTA), the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) and Australian Container Freight Services among the backers.

He also claims the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) supports the reform, despite the association claiming to remain neutral in the debate. Its NSW branch opposes safe rates.

Sheldon’s comments follow media reports of opposition from Victoria to the Federal Government’s planned tribunak.

The Australian newspaper quoted a spokeswoman for the Victorian Government calling the proposal "an unnecessary additional layer of regulation" that will increase costs.

NSW is still considering its position, while the Queensland Attorney-General Cameron Dick says the state will accept "any federal laws that are eventually adopted".

Ninemsn reported Dick as saying Queensland does not oppose the tribunal. He will meet with the Queensland branch of the TWU to discuss the issue.

"While we need to consider the Commonwealth Government's request in detail, the Queensland Government supports any measures to improve road safety for transport workers," Dick says.

Linfox founder Lindsay Fox last week accused Coles and Woolworths of trying to dictate terms and for "expecting everything for nothing".

"They are going to crucify the farmers, crucify the bread manufacturers and if you spoke to most of the consumer goods manufacturers at the moment, you would get a very mixed response about the aspects of dealing with these companies," he told The Australian.

Sheldon last year took aim at Coles over its transport contracts and held it and Woolworths "ultimately responsible" for heavy vehicle fatalities.

He claimed Coles was putting the economic squeeze on trucking companies and failing to adjust contracts to account for inflation.

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