TWU calls for urgent investigation into Coles' supply chain

Over 120 Truck Drivers took over Sydney CBD streets to highlight Coles' destructive transport cuts (June 4). Photo Contributed
Over 120 Truck Drivers took over Sydney CBD streets to highlight Coles' destructive transport cuts (June 4). Photo Contributed Contributed

LATEST:  TRANSPORT Workers Union NSW Secretary Michael Aird has called for an urgent investigation of Coles' supply chain by the authorities after systematic breaches of heavy vehicle laws were uncovered in an investigation of three transport operators at a Coles distribution centre in Western Sydney.

Mr Aird was speaking as more than 100 transport workers rallied outside a Coles supermarket in downtown Sydney to demand an end to the retail giant's relentless pressure on truckies to help stem the carnage on our roads.

"We tell car drivers to stop, revive and survive every two hours, yet the evidence uncovered shows that truckies in the Coles supply chain are out on the roads for up to 12 hours without a proper break," Mr Aird said.

"This is just a snapshot of what's happening in one distribution centre in the Coles supply chain - but it's a terrifying snapshot, with more than 126 breaches of national heavy vehicle laws identified.

"That's 126 cases where truckies haven't been allowed their proper rest breaks and have then gotten out on the same roads shared by everyone else."

Mr Aird said that Coles was notorious for the pressure it puts on truck drivers without acknowledging the consequences of their never ending demands. The Roads and Maritime Services of NSW are leading the way on investigating the supply chain problem but more needs to be done.

"We've written to the Police, Roads and Maritime Services and several others to request an immediate investigation of the Coles supply chain. That means raids on distributions centres and detailed analysis of operator's records. But it also means encouraging truck drivers to come forward and speak out about what's happening. To do that we need to offer a time limited amnesty for all drivers who want to speak out," Mr Aird said.

"Until we get to the bottom of this, we will continue to see hundreds of deaths and injuries on our roads which don't need to happen."

The TWU conducted this investigation by analysing the log books of drivers and comparing this with freight movement sheets at the Coles National Distribution Centre at Eastern Creek.

From an investigation of just three operators, 126 breaches of National Heavy Vehicle laws have already been identified including :

  •  Drivers making deliveries at Coles stores and distribution centres forced to mark loading and unloading time as rest time in breach of NHVR regulations. 
  •  Drivers denied their rest time during shifts exceeding 11 hour shift.
  •  Fatigue management records not properly kept in breach of regulations.

Coles declined to comment further pointing to their statement from earlier today (see below).

Big Rigs has interviewed Michael Aird, read about it in the next edition out June 19.


EARLIER: COLES has hit back at TWU claims about underpayment of truck drivers saying they were false

"The TWU continues to make malicious and completely false claims about Coles," a spokesperson said.

"Coles takes the safety of drivers and other road users very seriously.

"For the record, Coles does not employ any truck drivers, instead utilising the services of market-leading logistics providers such as Toll and Linfox.

"Coles is a signatory to the voluntary Retail Logistics Supply Chain Code of Conduct, which sets out minimum standards of operational behaviour, and Coles ensures its suppliers and contractors are aware of and understand the code.

"While Coles' network comprises more than 2,000 different sites, analysis by Deloitte shows that Coles accounts for just 0.8% of the national road freight task."

YESTERDAY: The Transport Workers' Union lodged a complaint in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission over the underpayment of 13 truck drivers in the Coles supply chain.

The drivers were each underpaid by $6,000, the TWU says.

The case comes as the Fair Work Ombudsman on Monday revealed that a Western Australian transport company admitted underpaying a driver by $20,000 so it could compete for contracts.

Now the TWU is urging major retailers to sign up to safety pledges which include paying transport companies sufficiently so that they can cover their costs and pay their drivers the correct safe rates.

Underpayment of truck drivers is widespread as major retailers continue to cut their transport costs with truck drivers at the bottom ultimately paying for it.

 "This exposes the deadly link between low cost contracts and poor rates for drivers. When drivers aren't paid enough they are put under pressure to skip breaks, speed, drive for longer with overloaded vehicles in a stressed and tired state. Sweating drivers and pushing them to their limit ends in carnage on our roads," said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.

Trucking is Australia's deadliest profession with drivers 15 times more likely to die than any other profession, according to Safe Work Australia.

 "Companies like Coles need to wake up to the role they are playing in their supply chains: what they do and what they pay has a direct effect on the lives of drivers and on the death toll on our roads," Sheldon added.

The case highlighted by the Fair Work Ombudsman involves a truck driver not paid for loading or unloading his truck for four years, not paid the correct hourly rate and not paid travel allowances.

The transport company told the ombudsman "tenders for new contracts were fiercely competitive and lower prices could only be achieved through lower wages."

Other examples of underpayment of drivers uncovered by the Fair Work Ombudsman include:

  • A dozen truck drivers in Perth underpaid $93,000 after their employer paid them below the long distance kilometre rate for a year
  •  A truck driver in northern Queensland underpaid by $52,000 who was not being paid the minimum hourly rate and not paid travel entitlements for several years
  •  A truck driver in South Australia who was underpaid $19,500

A TWU survey of truck drivers found:

  •  46% of drivers in the Coles supply chain feel pressure to skip breaks,
  • 28% feel pressured to speed 
  •  26% feel pressured to carry overweight loads
  • Many of these transport companies also operate on small margins and sacrifice or delay essential maintenance to meet the economic squeeze placed on them by Coles

 The National Transport Commission's report on Remuneration and Safety in the Australian Heavy Vehicle Industry (2008) 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".

Topics:  fair work money transport truck drivers twu wages

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