John Thistleton, Canberra Times
NOT HAPPY: Local bread distributors protesting outside the Tip Top depot in Griffith
In July, grocers complained of being bullied into accepting unreasonable trading conditions with the national food company.
Now delivery drivers say they are losing thousands of dollars a week after having their contracts changed, forcing them to deliver more bread for less money.
Yesterday morning the Transport Workers Union led a protest outside Tip Top’s depot in Griffith, saying it would not rule out disrupting bread supplies if owners of the manufacturer, George Weston Foods, did not negotiate fairer contracts. Owner driver Aleni Otuhouma, who is half way through repaying $120,000 on his vehicle, says he is losing $3,500 a week, delivering more bread for less money.
TWU Canberra secretary Klaus Pinkas said Canberra had about 14 distributors like Mr Otuhouma, and since two left, the remaining 12 distributors had been asked to pick up extra work for reduced incomes.
Mr Otuhouma, now a father-of-two since the arrival last week of his son, is working 80 hours a week and paying off a mortgage.
He says this is another case of big business running down smaller businesses. The drivers and their casual employees work through the night delivering bread to shops.
Owner-driver Paul Charnock, who has been driving for Tip Top for six years, said he was now expected to deliver to Bungendore and Braidwood for nothing.
This would cost him between $1,600 and $2,000 a week.
Owner-driver Michael Wood said his deliveries had been doubled and he would lose $3,000 a week.
Tip Top said the new contracts were caused by challenging market conditions and fewer customer drops. "Tip Top has provided all individual distributors with reasonable notice in line with their existing contracts, and is now actively engaged in discussion with these distributors and working to resolve any concerns regarding individual delivery runs in a timely manner." It said it had consulted with NSW’s TWU branch and was disappointed in the action taken by the union.
Changes were necessary to continue delivery, and help sustain one of the biggest employers in the country, Tip Top’s statement said.
Mr Pinkas said drivers were paid per loaf of bread under a complicated system that varied depending on bread varieties and kilometres they travelled. "They are being asked to do more for less pay. The big issue is the rate is not sustainable." He said a "crazy" attempt to force reduced contracts on distributors would be felt in Cooma, Bega, Batemans Bay, Young and Wagga as well as Canberra. "Runs have been reduced and payments slashed with no consultation and no regard to personal circumstances of the contractors, including some who had delivered bread for the company for over 20 years," Mr Pinkas said.
"There are members who have invested heavily in new equipment, some within the past six months, to service their contracts and for Tip Top to try and pull the rug from underneath these guys in this way is appalling."