Global retail giant Aldi has failed in its bid to silence truck drivers and the TWU from speaking out about safety after it lost a Federal Court case today.
Aldi truck drivers have raised concerns about being pushed to drive long hours, skip safety procedures, operate faulty trucks, work in stores and distribution centres with blocked fire exits, faulty electrics, filthy floors, rotting meat left out and no lighting during night deliveries. TWU has also uncovered evidence of transport operators in the Aldi supply chain not training drivers adequately, not maintaining their trucks and failing to pay drivers proper rates and superannuation.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said it was an important day for truck drivers and their right to speak out about safety in a deadly industry. “Aldi, a global retailer, tried to take on Australian truck drivers in a lengthy and costly legal battle and it failed. This case shows that companies like Aldi will try every law in the land to shut workers up but eventually the truth comes out. We will now write to Aldi asking them to meet us and discuss how they can make their supply chains safe. We hope they will take us up on this offer and help save lives,” Kaine said.
“Trucking is Australia’s deadliest industry and Government reports constantly state the number of people killed in truck crashes is disproportionally high. It is incumbent on every retailer, manufacturer and oil company to ensure that their goods are being transported in the safest possible way, otherwise people die. Truck drivers every day are being pressured to speed, drive long hours and skip their mandatory rest breaks because of the pressure to keep transport costs down. Aldi instead of silencing drivers needs to listen to them and make their supply chains safer,” Kaine added.
The court threw out Aldi’s charge of “misleading and deceptive conduct”, stating: “The pressure put on drivers transporting Aldi goods inevitably, but regrettably, occasioned contraventions by drivers of safety standards imposed by Aldi.”
Evidence by a truck driver in the case about a being forced to driver a faulty Aldi truck “would warrant serious injury”, the judgment adds.
The case threatened freedom of speech since it is rare for a company to sue a non-government organisation over “misleading and deceptive conduct”. It could have led to civil society groups being gagged against raising issues to do with human rights, environmental and worker abuses.
Aldi dropped key charges following hearings last year in the long-running case including accusations of trespass, nuisance and secondary boycott in relation to protests the TWU and truck drivers have held outside Aldi stores and premises to highlight safety concerns. It also dropped the charge of damage to reputation as an employer of choice.
In 2019, 188 people were killed in truck crashes; this compares to 158 in 2018, according to the Bureau of Infrastructure Transport and Regional Economics. Safe Work data shows of the 166 workers killed in 2019, 60 of them were transport workers.*
Kaine called on the Federal Government to address the problem of truck crash deaths. “Four years ago the Federal Government shut down a road safety watchdog and put nothing in its place. Now we have drivers dying, other road users dying and Aldi trying to stop information coming out about the causes of the problem. The Federal Government must defend trucks’ right to speak out and be safe at work,” he said.
The Federal Court case began in August 2017 when the retailer failed to get an injunction stopping the TWU and drivers from protesting and speaking out about Aldi.
A major agreement between the TWU and Coles was signed during the union’s National Council two years ago. The agreement involved statements of principles to ensure safe and fair conditions for workers in the Coles supply chain and the on-demand economy. A separate charter has been signed previously with Woolworths.