Retail giants on notice to face court

Release date: 11/05/2012

The big retailers will face scrutiny over driver safety after police filed more than 1000 charges against executives of four trucking companies.

Canberra Times

Lennon's, Scott's in South Australia, Damorange, and Fred's Transport are accused of dangerous speeding and tampering with heavy vehicles in order to exceed speed limits.

NSW Roads and Maritime Services said the focus of its investigation is now on suppliers, who may be liable under the chain of responsibility for trucking laws. RMS customer compliance director Peter Wells said yesterday, "This is really chapter one in our investigation, where we're picking on senior members of the companies."

The investigation was sparked by widespread reports of speeding, tampering and the deaths of three family members in a collision with a Lennon's truck in January. About 12 directors and managers of the trucking firms are charged with around 25 to 30 offences each.

The prosecutions were announced as the Transport Workers Union launched protests at Coles stores across the country, saying practices used by big retailers were endangering drivers.

"Coles have implemented a business model that is deliberately causing deaths and injuries on our roads," the assistant secretary of the union's NSW branch, Michael Aird, said. The retailer had cut pay rates, slashed transport providers and forced services to be contracted to operators that didn't adhere to appropriate standards, he said.

Coles denied the claims. "We outsource our transport business to large and reputable providers, we take safe transport practices very seriously and in no way do our transport contracts force drivers into unsafe or illegal practices," Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said. "Coles takes chain of responsibility very seriously as being core to its operating practices," he said.

The TWU says one in three truck drivers works for a major retailer like Coles or Woolworths, in an industry with a death rate more than 10 times the industrial average. It says one in three workplace fatalities are related to truck driving, despite the industry having only two per cent of the total number of Australian workers.

Retired driver Peter Cooley, who spent 44 years driving, said major retailers did not care about the pressures on drivers. "If you don't break the law, you don't have a job, it's as simple as that," he said

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