The TWU, SDA and AWU have written to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Communities Barnaby Joyce to safeguard supply chains smashed by external shocks and ensure worker representation in decision-making, with flood-ravaged communities cut off from essentials and global supply chains threatened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Unions and worker voices have been excluded from the Federal Government response to flooding, despite transport, agriculture and retail workers being some of the worst affected and most important to get food and essential supplies to people in need.
The Retail Supply Chain Alliance last month took a set of Supply Chain Safety Principles to Canberra in anticipation of further natural disasters like flooding, the rising threat of war in Ukraine, and future covid variants.
The lack of reprieve between major flood-damaged freight rail lines and highways to WA, SA and NT and the current flooding disaster impacting Queensland and NSW highlights the urgency with which the government must act.
The alliance has warned that preparation must begin now to protect essential supply chain workplaces from covid variants and a particularly bad flu season expected this winter through the supply of free rapid antigen tests and workplace safety plans.
The principles include:
- Secure jobs through regulation to guard against the ‘Amazon Effect’;
- Free rapid tests for all supply chain workers; and
- Mandatory consultation on policy changes with a standing supply chain committee involving unions, workers and industry groups like ARTIO.
Recent knee-jerk political decisions made without consultation have deliberately exposed hardworking families to covid and proposed weakening truck and forklift licencing rules in Australia’s deadliest industry.
The unions are calling for an independent body to create and enforce standards to stop gig behemoths like Amazon from squeezing supply chains, fragmenting work, and driving down safe conditions, making it harder to respond to crises.
Last year, Scott Morrison arrogantly rebuffed workers warnings that supply chains would be crippled without a national plan including free rapid antigen tests.
Quotes from the Retail Supply Chain Alliance
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine:
“While the Federal Government has had its head in the sand, supply chains have faced continuous bombardment from covid, flooding, bushfires, war. The absence of a national plan has left stressed out, fatigued workers scrambling to pick up the pieces at great risk to their own safety. There’s been a sharp rise in truck crash deaths. Last month we reported that a truck driver had been killed every six days since a Senate report was tabled in August calling for regulatory solutions to make trucking safer. The recommendations have still not been acknowledged by the Morrison Government.
“Our supply chains remain vulnerable to external shocks which will keep coming. Essential industries will only bounce back when they are equipped to do so. That means workers need good, secure conditions, free rapid tests to prepare for the next variant, and a say over policy changes that directly affect their work and their safety,” he said.
AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton:
“From the farms to the stores to people’s homes, we need a system that functions like clockwork. What we have instead is a string of exploitation, underemployment and silencing of workers on the chronic difficulties they face.
“Government roundtables that deliberately exclude workers’ voices are a smokescreen to appear to be doing something while silencing workers on the crisis underpinning supply chain chaos. The floods are devastating and are bound to impact industries like agriculture and transport. If those industries don’t have strong foundations of secure jobs and worker-led consultation informing government response, disruption quickly turns to disaster,” he said.
SDA National Secretary Gerard Dwyer:
“The Retail Supply Chain Alliance will keep banging on the doors of Parliament House because Australian communities need supplies and essential supply chain workers need the support of government to do their jobs. We must stop chasing our tail when disaster strikes and expect underpaid workers in insecure jobs to pull us out of the mess. The hard times are going to keep coming, we need a government that is prepared,” he said.