Aldi accused of forcing workers to drive with fatigue and work in unsafe conditions – but Aldi says it's all 'lies'

Scott Olson/Getty ImagesThe Transport Worker’s Union has protested against Aldi.
  • The Transport Workers Union (TWU) and truck drivers held protests on Wednesday, claiming unsafe conditions in Aldi’s supply chain.
  • According to the TWU, Aldi workers have raised concerns about fatigue, unsafe loading docks and faulty equipment.
  • Aldi refutes the TWU’s claims and calls them “lies”.

Aldi Australia is being accused of forcing drivers to work with fatigue and deal with unsafe work conditions in its supply chain, with protests held around the country on Wednesday. Aldi has denied these claims.

The protests by truck drivers and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) were held in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth – the latest in a string of protests held by truck drivers since 2017 to call for better working conditions at Aldi. Just last month, protests were held outside an Aldi store in Port Adelaide.

TWU’s national secretary Michael Kaine claimed workers have detailed safety concerns to the union. He identified the issues he claims some of the drivers have raised, such as fatigue and faulty equipment. Business Insider Australia has not been able to independently verify the accusations.

“We have truck drivers at Aldi contacting us with evidence of how safety is being put at risk, how they are pushed to drive fatigued, how loading docks are unsafe with broken and faulty equipment, how access to toilets, fire equipment and emergency exits are blocked,” he said in a statement.

“But they have also told us how when they try to raise these safety concerns they are ignored and even ridiculed.”

Kaine said the protests were held because they “want an end to this disregard for safety”.

“We want Aldi to come to the table and discuss with how their supply chain can be made safer,” he said.

Aldi launches a Federal Court case

The grocery giant refutes the claims made by the TWU and has taken the union to court to fight what it calls “lies”.

In 2017, Aldi launched a Federal Court case to prevent the TWU distributing material around the mistreatment of workers, the Guardian reported. According to the TWU, the Federal Court case resumes on October 22.

“The TWU has on multiple occasions accused Aldi of deaths on roads, underpaying employees, knowingly placing employees in harm’s way, violating heavy vehicle regulations, poorly maintaining our transport fleet, ignoring responsibilities within our supply chain and silencing workers,” Damien Scheidel, Managing Director, Corporate Logistics, Aldi Australia said in a statement. “All of these claims are lies and we will not stand accused of such actions. This is why we are in court.

“We have contacted the TWU on more than ten occasions requesting details of their claims to ensure we can investigate the alleged safety concerns immediately. Not once have these details been forthcoming. It is our view that the TWU are more interested in leveraging our good brand for their own influence and political gain than addressing transport safety issues.

“If the TWU are withholding valid safety claims regarding our operations, they should share them and we’ll investigate them immediately.”

Scheidel outlined that Aldi promotes a whistle-blower policy “to allow drivers to comfortably voice issues,” but the TWU disagreed.

“We just know from people approaching us from Aldi that… there’s not a great whistleblower policy,” TWU’s Director of Communications Judith Crosbie told Business Insider Australia. “In other words, if people kind of consistently raise safety issues, they get ignored. One guy who contacted us just at the weekend said he didn’t pass his probation because he was constantly raising safety issues.”

Crosbie added that one driver was “ridiculed” for constantly raising fatigue issues. She also mentioned an issue with the trucking companies Aldi uses. “We noticed, from our monitoring of Aldi’s supply chain, we noticed that they actually use some trucking companies which don’t pay their drivers properly [and] which don’t maintain their trucks.”

Coles and Woolworths sign charter for safety

Amid the calls for greater safety for truckers, Coles and Woolworths have worked with TWU to ensure worker safety.

Woolworths signed a safety charter with the TWU in 2016, to ensure worker safety is adhered to.

“We treat the safety of workers seriously,” a Woolworths spokesperson told Business Insider in an email. “This not only goes for our team members, but also for other workers engaged as part of our broader supply chain. We value the relationships we have in the transport industry, including the TWU, and signed on to the Transport Safety Charter in 2016.”

In May 2018, Coles also signed an agreement with the TWU to ensure safety for transport workers in the Coles supply chain. At the time, Coles’ then managing director John Durkan said in a statement, “Our business, and the businesses of our thousands of Australian suppliers, rely on the skill and the efforts of the workers in our supply chain.

“The people who work in these sectors make an invaluable contribution not just economically, but to the community as a whole. We are proud to make this commitment that their safety and fair treatment will always be a top priority for Coles.”

But it doesn’t look like Aldi has plans to be signing any safety charter with the TWU.

Aldi’s safety standards

Scheidel said in a statement that, on average, Aldi’s transport operators earn more than 30% above the Road Transport and Distribution Award of 2010.

He further mentioned the ways in which the company ensures safety in its companies, such as ensuring its suppliers work to the the Heavy Vehicle National Law and Fair Work Act.

“We work to keep our people safe by training and paying them well, running a modern fleet of vehicles, observing good maintenance practices, providing easy hazard reporting mechanisms and building a safety first culture,” he added.

In addition, Scheidel said Aldi works with its drivers to create “safe and efficient route plans that help to reduce their total kilometres and drive times”. The company also requires all of its drivers to keep work diaries and runs audits on them.

“Schedulers are attuned to managing run allocations to give drivers an average shift that is well below the upper limit of hours under Basic Fatigue Management,” Scheidel said. “The last external audit of all Aldi’s fleet operations raised not a single safety concern.”

With the court case resuming on October 22, it seems the fight between Aldi and the TWU will only continue.

If you have more information on this story, please email Business Insider reporter Sharon Masige.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.