Australians have never been more dependent on the hard work and diligence of transport workers.
With the COVID-19 pandemic grinding on, the ability for logistics supply chains to function smoothly and efficiently has become even more critical, as millions of people are forced to stay home, and door to door delivery of goods become a lifeline.
All of which makes the decision by mega transport company Toll attempt to outsource its workforce, use short-term contract workers and undermine the future of its existing, hardworking, permanent employees even more baffling.
Last Friday, over 7000 Toll transport workers staged a 24-hour strike to drive home the message to the company that moving to an outsourced, lower paid insecure workforce that would drive down pay and conditions for workers would not stand.
It’s the latest flashpoint in a rapidly growing crisis in the transport industry, as digital raiders like AmazonFlex, Uber and others continue their attempts to smash the secure work environment for transport workers by attempting to absolve themselves of the employer/employee relationship and the responsibilities that come with it.
The result is a race to the bottom, to try and drive down the cost of doing business. Inevitably, that means trying to rob workers of their pay and conditions.
At a time when Australians are keenly aware that the difficult and dangerous work transport workers do is crucial to them putting food on their table and keeping them going during the COVID crisis, it was vital that workers drew a line in the sand, according to Transport Workers Union (TWU) National Secretary, Michael Kaine.
“Anyone who believes this is not the time to strike, we agree with you. Transport workers should be working hard today, not sacrificing a day’s wage to try and make sure they still have a job in a few weeks. This attack on workers is inexcusable at any time, but to do so when transport workers have made sacrifices and taken risks during a pandemic to meet exceptional demand is shocking.”
Mike McNess is a senior official in the TWU’s Victorian branch, and one of the negotiating team in the Union’s Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) discussions with Toll.
He told “On the Job” that Toll has simply failed to recognise just how essential transport workers are in keeping Australia ticking.
“When you go back to the outset (of the EBA negotiations), they presented to us a two-tier employee and wage system that essentially opened the door for them to formalise exactly what we didn’t want, which was a less secure workgroup on lower rates of pay.
“History shows that once you open that door, it’s a slippery slope. We’re going through a pandemic at the moment where casual workers and a less secure workforce has really been exposed. And it’s not something that we want to perpetuate.”
Mr. McNess believes the explosion in online shopping and delivery services that has occurred due to the pandemic is seen as an opportunity by some employers to reframe their relationship with their workforce that will have devastating implications for workers.
“There’s a pretty big online delivery space at the moment with, perhaps a number of employers around the nation see this as an opportunity either to de-unionise the workforce or lower conditions and employ cheaper labor.
“Over the last 15 months, perhaps even two years, we’ve seen aspects of the workforce based around the gig economy explode, we’ve had a number of workplace deaths late last year, when it comes to food delivery, and so forth.
“It was a pretty hectic year 2020, and a lot of our members at Toll found themselves out there and feeling exposed feeling like they were working under risk. It’s something that we do want to resist.”
Mike McNess is keen to underline that the desire for decent secure work is a fundamental building bloke of strong stable communities, and that’s why transport workers at Toll are determined to fight.
‘It gives people a sense of purpose, it gives workers an opportunity to secure a life and a future for themselves and their families.”
As National Secretary of the TWU, Michael Kaine is looking at the big picture. He wants federal legislation to be passed to protect workers from predatory employment practices in the crucial transport sector.
“Regulation for Australia’s deadliest industry is a national priority. We implore the Federal Government to break its silence and announce a regulatory body to put an end to the crisis of cost-cutting in transport supply chains as recommended by a Senate report this week.
“More than 200 truck drivers and almost 1000 people have been killed in truck crashes in the last five years. Deaths will rise exponentially if safe, reliable transport jobs are outsourced to sweated drivers on the lowest cost contracts. The Federal Government must put out the blaze before it becomes an inferno.”