Driver strike action set to impact food, fuel supplies

Thousands of truck drivers for major transport companies including Toll are preparing to commence strike action beginning on Friday.

The decision follows a breakdown of crisis talks between Toll and the Transport Workers Union who have accused the company of driving down labour costs by scrapping overtime entitlements and hiring outside workers with fewer rights and less pay.

Now the crisis has deepened with thousands of workers at Linfox and Bevchain ready to join the fray after it was confirmed strike applications at both companies were being prepared.

At this moment up to 15,000 truck drivers are heading towards strikes as negotiations collapsed between TWU members and five major transport companies over a push from transport operators to engage lower paid, insecure workers.

Today the Fair Work Commission will, according to the TWU, receive applications from workers at Linfox and Bevchain to hold votes to take industrial action if companies refuse to abandon their threats to job security. This would involve more than 2000 workers in the food and alcohol supply chains serviced by Linfox and Bevchain.

In a bid to compete with exploitative business models like AmazonFlex, Toll, according to the TWU, is forging ahead with its attack on jobs, leaving workers no choice but to withdraw their labour after months of failed talks.

Last Thursday, workers voted 94 per cent in favour of taking action to secure better working arrangements.

The successful ballot gives around 7000 transport workers protection under the Fair Work Act to walk off the job.

The TWU claimed it had appealed for Toll to provide workers with job security provisions and abandon its plans to engage an underclass of lower paid truck drivers.

Toll reportedly refused to budge, triggering strike action set to last 24 hours with food and fuel supplies expected to be disrupted over the coming weekend.

To do nothing would be to wait like sitting ducks according to TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine, who said jobs drivers had skilfully done for decades were to be given away to the lowest common denominator.

“If workers had accepted this today, their jobs could have been contracted out moments after signing on the dotted line,” he said.

“It is an abomination that billionaire retailers like Amazon are smashing profit records while ripping off transport supply chains and crushing the jobs of the truck drivers who’ve risked the health of their families to deliver parcels and keep shelves stocked,” said Kaine.

“Toll workers need guarantees that they won’t be sliced and diced Qantas-style and replaced by a cut-price, underemployed workforce. They don’t want to go on strike, especially during a pandemic, but they must because they have everything to lose.”

The strike action comes as job security was further jeopardised within the transport industry, with a further 6,000 transport workers due to vote on strike action at StarTrack and FedEx this week and next.

TWU NSW is suing Toll in the NSW Supreme Court for more than 5,000 late payments to owner truck drivers which could result in penalties of up to almost $52 million.

TWU NSW/Qld Secretary and lead Toll negotiator Richard Olsen accused Toll management of being responsible for two crises at once including both job instability and coming mass disruptions to food and fuel supplies.

“While we implore Toll to fix this, none of it would be happening if the Federal Government had the right regulation in place to ensure transport supply chains are adequately funded by wealthy retailers, manufacturers and oil companies at the top,” he said.

Toll recently reported an upsurge in revenues during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, with an increase of $6.3 billion from $4.7 billion in 2020.

Worker wages and benefits at Toll decreased this year also while the company has been forced to write down the sale of Toll Express to Allegro.

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