Just a few months ago office supplies giant Staples sacked 46 owner drivers by text message. The reason: they dared to protest low rates of $2 per home delivery parcel, meaning some drivers were earning just $8 per hour.
These drivers, like many owner drivers, have invested hefty sums of up to $130,000 in goodwill to start their businesses. A rate of $8 an hour isn’t going to stretch very far when you consider in addition to such loans drivers have to cover the day to day costs of maintenance, fuel, registration, tolls and so on.
Staples owner driver Richard Manning says $8 an hour isn’t enough: “These are our businesses and our ability to support our families on the line. We simply can’t make ends meet on the home delivery rates paid by Staples.”
Now Staples is not a business in trouble – far from it. Last year it reported profits of $270 million, with its chief executive Ronald L Sargent taking home $14 million. One thing’s for sure, it’s not that they can’t afford to pay drivers more, it’s just that they don’t want to.
These drivers haven’t taken this lying down. Over a number of months they’ve tried to sit down with Staples bosses to sort it out, to no avail. So at the end of April they held peaceful protests outside the Staples warehouse at Erskine Park in Sydney. That’s when the company sent out the text message sacking the workers – what a disgrace! Now many of the drivers are back at work and the TWU is supporting their fight for a fair go in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission – watch this space for further updates.
It’s not just delivery drivers feeling the squeeze from above. While the big banks at the top of the supply chain are putting pressure on armoured car operators to reduce costs, it’s the drivers who are paying the cost.
Cash-in-transit drivers at Prosegur recently received a company announcement that a two-tier wage structure was to be put in place. Prosegur wanted to put new recruits onto a lower wage structure which not only would have discriminated against new drivers but would eventually mean all drivers would be on lower rates when contracts get renewed. Three depots in Sydney and Newcastle took 24hr strike action.
This is the kind of fight back against the race to the bottom on transport rates and conditions which is the foundation of the Safe Rates fight.
In Queensland Lifeline drivers recently stood together to end a bizarre arrangement which saw some drivers get allowances providing wet weather gear and equipment while others were forced to fend for themselves. Management weren’t keen on the idea but after drivers stood together to show they weren’t going to be divided on the issue any longer, Lifeline came round and agreed all drivers should be treated the same.
The thing is drivers aren’t asking for the massive pay packets of the chief executives who run the retailers, the banks, the manufacturers or the oil companies. They’re fighting for a fair go.
In NSW owner drivers won minimum rates over 30 years ago. The rates came in under threats from the big bosses of the collapse of the entire industry but 3 decades later, the rates have proven to work. NSW owner drivers are no longer forced to endlessly undercut one another to secure work and they’re prospering because of it.
This is the industry wide solution that the Safe Rates fight is about. Setting a fair standard on rates and conditions for all drivers – in every sector and every type of employment – is the only way to make sure drivers have a fair go.
I can’t put it better than owner driver Ray Childs does: “Us truck drivers, we own Safe Rates. It’s our fight to make our industry and our lives better. It’s our fight for a better future for our businesses and our kids. Safe Rates mean a fair go for everyone in the industry – not just the bosses getting rich at the top.”
It is time to stand up and fight back for a safer, fairer industry. Don’t sit back and watch it happen, get involved now at: saferates.org.au