Long fight a big win for workers

THE TWU had very good reason to celebrate recently when the Industrial Court found in its favour in a protracted seven-year case against Toll Transport.

This case, which had its first hearing back in 2005, centred on a company - Toll - refusing to allow its drivers the opportunity to sell their truck with work at a premium price above the base value of the vehicle.

In short, Toll refused to acknowledge goodwill, which is the value of the business above and beyond the physical value of the truck itself.

The TWU represented nine truck drivers who, back in 1981/82, were under owner-driver arrangements at Brambles yards (then at Marrickville and Waterloo).

Brambles sold a number of trucks to its employees on the basis they become owner-drivers. Eight of the nine drivers bought trucks at a premium or with goodwill for their business.

In 1996, Toll bought Brambles transport business and engaged the owner-drivers. During that period, Toll told the drivers business would continue as usual and nothing would change.

The TWU argued in court that the contract with Toll had been unfair and harsh because Toll failed to recognise goodwill and the drivers were unable to recover the loss in investment returns.

Further, we argued on behalf of the drivers that, from the outset, they had always been in a position of unequal and inferior bargaining power in respect of their dealings with Toll.

They had also been led to believe that the terms of their contract would not differ fundamentally from their engagement with Brambles.

On March 30, after seven years of doing the rounds of litigation, I am delighted to say the owner-drivers were finally vindicated when the court handed down a decision in their favour.

The court accepted the TWU's argument that Toll's contract was unfair and harsh, and ordered Toll to compensate the drivers for loss of goodwill. The court also found Toll had an unwritten rule it did not recognise goodwill or allow the sale of trucks with goodwill.

The transport company had, however, failed to notify the drivers of this unofficial policy and they had no idea of it.

Over seven years, those drivers had lost much more than just the goodwill from their investment.

A number of them had endured personal tragedies, with one driver, for instance, injuring his back, rendering him incapable of continuing work. Another had lost his wife to cancer, leaving him with the sole care of his three sons. None of these severe trials and losses had been factored into Toll's dealings with the drivers.

The specific amount to be compensated has yet to be determined, but I take this opportunity to congratulate our legal team and the drivers for doing a magnificent job under such trying circumstances. I commend them for their persistence and steely determination in standing up for the fundamental rights of workers.

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