Coles and TWU butt heads again

Demonstration at owner Wesfarmers' AGM followed by assertion that Coles was not involved in any food and liquor-related trucking deaths

By Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi | November 14, 2012


Coles has hit back at union claims that it is driving unsafe practices in the trucking industry.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) used today’s Wesfarmers annual general meeting to call on Coles to stop the "retail war" which is putting unrealistic demands on drivers.

Truck drivers in major cities across the country have rallied, highlighting what impact the retail war is having on truck drivers and other road users.

National Acting Secretary Michael Kaine says the pressures faced by drivers and transport companies is "directly contributing to the deaths of 330 people" on the roads each year.

"The retail sector in the transport market accounts for over a third of the entire transport market and of course Coles is one of the two big retail gorillas which is a large contributor to the pressures there are on drivers," Kaine says.

"We are trying to bring to the attention of shareholders that these are not just statistics by way the share prices are a statistic, these people’s lives have been changed very much for the worse for ever.

"When you think of the 5,400 odd people injured each year as well, the consequences of that pressure affect a very large number of people."

He believes Coles should stop putting pressures on drivers.

"Coles should stop denying there is a problem; it has consistently run a line which has a kernel of truth in it and it’s wrapped in sheets of denial and that is that they engage large companies who are safe, the likes of Linfox and Toll, because TWU members have made them safe and continue to make them safe every day," he says.

"That only accounts for a portion of their work and it’s the rest of the work that’s been performed in the supply chain which is a real problem and they have to stop denying that there is a problem."

But the supermarket chain sought to rebut the oft-made claim.

Coles Corporate Affairs Officer Jim Cooper says 35 of the 212 deaths involving articulated or heavy rigid trucks in 2011 relate to the food and liquor industry and none involve Coles.

He says Coles has improved safety in its own supply chain with a 76 percent reduction in team member injuries in the last year.

He also adds that the TWU has made a number of false claims about Coles’ transport operations, saying the business is managed by large and reputable transport providers who are proud of their safety record.

"In no way do our transport contacts with such companies force drivers into unsafe or illegal practices," Cooper says.

He has denied allegations that one in three trucks work for major retailers like Coles, saying Coles road transport represents less than four percent of the food and liquor retailers.

"The reality is that higher wages must be paid for by higher prices to customers or fewer jobs and increasing wages by five percent would increase food and liquor prices for every Australian family by almost $50 per year.

"Coles is not squeezing its transport suppliers but working with them to generate shared benefits through sales and turnover. The success of the Coles strategy has allowed our major transport suppliers like Toll and Linfox to pay their TWU and NUW workers a wage rise of four percent in 2011 and 2012 and one percent increases in superannuation contributions to ten percent on 2011 and eleven percent in 2012."

The majority of Coles 100,000 team members will receive an average annual wage increase of 3.5 percent over the next two years under an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA), he adds.

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