Push for truckies to bill retailers for waiting time after claims of “supply chain bullying”

Retailers will have to pay penalties for truckies required to wait unreasonable times to unload goods under a union plan before the Federal Government’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

The tribunal announced yesterday that its first annual work program will focus on the retail, livestock, bulk grain, interstate long distance and intrastate long distance sectors next year.

The Transport Workers Union has welcomed the review of the retail sector and has accused big retailers, in particular Coles, of using their economic power to dictate prices, standards and conditions which see truck drivers pressured into bearing the cost of lost income as a result of long waits to unload goods.

The union claims one in three trucks across the country are doing work for big retailers like Coles, and major retailers have unprecedented economic power over the industry.

The Safe Rates Survey 2012 recorded 73% of surveyed drivers in the Coles supply chain agreeing that pressure from major clients, like Coles, is the major cause of unsafe practices in the industry such as speeding, carrying overweight loads and breaking safe driving hours.

Michael Kane, assistant national secretary of the union, told SmartCompany the tribunal has indicated it will look at the “root cause of the problem” rather than the “symptoms”, which are the kilometre rates for drivers, unpaid waiting time and cost recovery for owner drivers.

“They are looking at the top of the supply chain to see the economic pressures that lead to those symptoms being removed,” he says.

“[Truck drivers] are the backbone of the economy and the most accountable participants in the supply chain, the incidence of those symptoms won’t change until pressures are removed from the top of the chain.”

Kane cites a pilot program at Port Botany under a NSW government initiative where stevedores faced a system of penalties if drivers were left waiting too long as an example of the system the union is advocating.

“What happened is that because of that incentive the waiting time has changed from one to four hours to 22 minutes, so we think that these kinds of economic incentives might have the effect of not increasing costs but eliminating some of the issues through a legitimate market mechanism,” he says.

“The efficiencies you gain are for the business, the environment and with drivers being able to spend more time on the road.”

Kane describes the current situation as one where “economic power is being used to impose a very inefficient system” and he warns retailers are just passing the cost down to consumers.

He singles out Coles in particular as “the most aggressive retailer in the supply chain” and describes the supermarket giant’s behaviour as “supply chain bullying”.

“Look at the pressure Coles is putting on across suppliers, whether dairy farmers or veggie growers. The squeeze on those suppliers is well known. When that squeeze is put on transport operators people die on our roads as operators are forced to keep the trucks on the road too long,” Kane says.

Frank Black, TWU member and Australian Trucking Association owner-driver representative, said truckies across Australia would benefit from the tribunal’s inquiry.

“After decades of truckies trying to stand up against the unfair and unreasonable demands of major clients like Coles and others, we are finally going to see them held to account for all the pressure they put on the drivers out on the roads each and every day who are just trying to make a decent living and provide for their families,” he said.

Coles spokesperson Jim Cooper told SmartCompany a number of claims made by the TWU about Coles’ transport operations were false.

“Our transport business is managed by large and reputable transport providers such as Linfox and Toll, who are very proud of their safety record,” he says.

“In no way do our transport contracts with such companies force drivers into unsafe or illegal practices. We require our transport providers to comply with all road safety laws and regulations, and all our freight contracts include fatigue management programs.”

Cooper says rather than making up one in three trucks on the road, food and liquor retail account for less than 15% of all goods transported on Australian roads despite thousands of stores across the country and Coles’ road transport represents less than 4% of this traffic.

He also disputes the TWU’s claim Coles is squeezing suppliers and driving down wages, conditions and safety within the trucking industry.

“Coles is not squeezing its transport suppliers but working with them to generate shared benefits through higher sales and turnover,” Cooper says.

He says the success of the Coles strategy has allowed major transport suppliers like Toll and Linfox to pay their TWU and National Union of Workers workers a wage rise of 4% in 2011 and 2012.

Cooper says of the 212 deaths involving articulated or heavy rigid trucks on the road in 2011 only 35 were related to the food and liquor industry, and none of these involved deliveries to Coles.

“Coles has also dramatically improved safety in its own supply chain, with a 76% reduction in team member injuries in the last 12 months,” he says.

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