Lifting of Standards

Release date: 21/01/2016

Owner Driver, by TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, 21 January 2016
Central to the ground-breaking order delivered in December by trucking’s safety watchdog, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, is the lifting of standards. The order mandating that owner drivers in retail and long distance be paid for the full cost of their work and which puts in place an auditing system to ensure this happens along the supply chain will change trucking for the better. The transport industry has for too long had to put up with poor standards and shoddy practices making it impossible for many drivers to support their families and ultimately puts lives at risk to keep the wheels turning.

While the RSRT order is an important part of changing this scenario it is just one piece of the puzzle.
It is vital that companies and clients are also held to account over standards for employees and fair transport contracts. These rights have never been more crucial because of the globalised nature of industry where company mergers and take-overs mean the standards and culture applied elsewhere will have a bearing on our standards here. National borders are not a barrier to lower standards.
Global logistics firm Toll is an important case study in this. Drivers at the home-grown company have worked hard to established a real voice in the workplace through their local, regional and national representative structures. This model ensures workplace representation and engagement and has resulted in work increased productivity, better safety for drivers and wages, rights, conditions for direct hire employees, owner-drivers and the workforce of contracting firms.
“Drivers at Toll in Australia know that when they stand together they will be listened to, when they raise concerns about safety or their conditions, and as a result the workforce is committed and highly productive,” says Mark Trevillian, Toll driver at Minchinbury. This efficiency and productivity of Toll’s employees and owner drivers was one of the reasons Japan Post sought the company out for a $6.5 billion takeover last year.
A similar model is working well in Los Angeles ports where after years of struggle truck drivers stood together with their union representatives in the Teamsters and achieved better conditions. A groundbreaking agreement with Toll was reached in 2013 which gave drivers decent wages, overtime pay, a pension plan and health care. But this agreement has not just benefitted the drivers. Toll has grown its business through its dedicated workforce at the port and has hired more drivers. Drivers at other companies working at the ports in Los Angeles have since this agreement fought together along with their union representatives for similar agreements.
Unfortunately drivers in New Jersey in the US are seeing a very different side to Toll. There the company refuses to engage with the workforce and its union and has illegally withdrawn recognition of the Teamsters. It has repeatedly sacked union activists and illegally agreed with one of its customers – Big Lots – not to use union drivers for deliveries. Anibal Diaz, a Toll driver at Carteret, New Jersey said: “Toll is a company that has fought New Jersey drivers every step of the way in our fight to get an agreement.  Union supporters in New Jersey have been pressured and forced to quit.  The management at Toll is a bully – they violate our rights, intimidate drivers and they need to be stopped.”
 I visited the Teamsters in January to discuss the developments in the US regarding Toll. This is a vital period as Japan Post consolidates its takeover of the company and as new policies are considered. Last year, along with Toll drivers, I met Japanese unions representing workers in Japan Post/Toll to get a greater understanding of how their system works and the potential for solidarity with Australia and other countries.
The Transport Workers Union together with the Japanese unions, Teamsters from the USA, First Union in New Zealand and a growing number of allies across the world are leading the fight to ensure that the Australian model of worker representation is adopted throughout the Toll company worldwide to ensure a voice for workforce. The same company which willingly sits down with its employees and owner drivers in Australia should not be refusing to even recognise a trade union in New Jersey, US, which its Toll employees have voted to have represent them. It is important that Australian workers join together in this fight because in a globalised world our standards can never be taken for granted when companies insist on applying less rights elsewhere.
The changed tactics of former Australian logistics firm TNT is a case in point, after the company’s good relationship with its workforce soured following its takeover by Dutch telecoms and postal company KPN. The firm’s focus became slashing rates, conditions and employee rights, which led to industrial action in the company over the last 10 years.
Companies must be held to account for their behavior towards their workforce everywhere. It is encumbant on us to stand together with workers struggling in other countries against companies who already employ workers here or may some day. We can never be complacent on ensuring decent standards in Australia and elsewhere because it is not your country which ensures ongoing rights but all of us fighting for a better culture in companies and being prepared to take action for positive change.

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