Last Wednesday, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) lodged applications with the Fair Work Commission (FWC), threatening strike action at some of Australia’s largest logistics companies, including Toll, Linfox, and Bevchain.
At the time, it was estimated that around 15,000 workers were preparing to go on strike at Toll on Friday 27th August as tensions in the industry continued to escalate.
The Toll Group, an Australian transportation and logistics company, holds contracts with major supermarkets across the country including Coles and Woolworths. Strike action at this scale, which has not been seen for at least a decade in the trucking industry, threatened to severely disrupt Australia’s food, alcohol retail, and fuel supply chains.
What Is driving strike action?
An increasing number of logistics companies are looking to outsource contract work, putting the job security of their existing workforces at risk. Australian truck drivers have been threatening to go on strike in an effort to keep these jobs in-house.
“If transport companies push ahead and flood truck yards with low-paid, stressed, precarious workers, it will eradicate good, safe jobs in Australia’s deadliest industry,” said Michael Kaine, TWU’s National Secretary.
“Transport is facing a tsunami of underemployment. Wealthy retailers, manufacturers, and oil companies are literally raking in the billions while shaving costs off the movement of their goods around the country. The impact of this has been an undercurrent in transport for years, and now a deadly swell has arrived.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions President, Michele O’Neil, also warned about the dangers of trucking. “With 205 workers killed on our roads in the last five years, truck driving is Australia’s deadliest industry,” he said. “Workers have been left with no choice but to strike and fight against Uberisation of their industry that could lead to both the loss of secure jobs and more deaths.”
The sudden and significant spike in demand for delivery services following COVID-19 saw logistics companies having to contend with a rise in both revenue and outgoing costs. As logistics companies battle to win major contracts, unions believe that their workers are bearing the brunt of these new budget pressures.
It is companies like Amazon that are largely responsible for driving many of these changes in the industry – leveraging technology to outsource deliveries to contractors who offer less pay and less favourable working conditions. Unions believe that instead of attempting to compete with the likes of Amazon, organisations should lobby the government to implement regulations that would better protect workers.
What happened on Friday 27th August?
At midday on Friday 27th August, thousands of workers at Toll launched (what is expected to be) the first of several strikes. While Toll has promised its workers a 2% pay increase for the next two years and a $1000 sign-on bonus, TWU is requesting a 3% rise alongside its demands for better job security for the workers it represents. The strike saw workers walk out from their jobs for a total of 24 hours, primarily threatening the supply chains of Woolworths’ stores across Greater Sydney.
The strike comes at a tricky time. Amid lockdown, COVID screening, permit rules, and increased demand for online deliveries the supply chains of major supermarkets are already considerably stretched.
But despite these challenges, Toll reported that the strike action had resulted in fairly minimal disruptions. Delivery delays impacted some customers and there were minor delays in the delivery of certain medical supplies in Sydney. “There were certainly some difficulties and a number of clients did face delays in receiving their goods,” a representative from Toll told ABC.
While the disruption caused by this first strike action might have been well mitigated, it’s expected that the TWU will continue to push for their workers’ rights by any means they deem necessary. Indeed, the union is currently planning additional strikes at Linfox, StarTrack, and FedEx.