Black Friday deliveries could face disruption as FedEx drivers threaten to strike at a moment’s notice over the four-day sales period.
FedEx drivers can legally walk off the job at any moment this week, after the company locked out striking workers, with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) flagging further stoppages for workers could come over the weekend.
On Thursday the TWU sent a letter to FedEx clients, including international and Australian companies Apple, Westfarmers and Harvey Norman to push the delivery company for a settlement after negotiations over pay reached an impasse this week.
The TWU said FedEx’s lockout imposed “extensive, unnecessary disruption for clients during the busiest period of the year in the lead up to Black Friday”.
The National Retailers Association (NRA) has forecast an avalanche of Black Friday deliveries extending to Cyber Monday, predicting shoppers will splurge $5.6 billion over the next four days.
NRA chief executive Dominique Lamb said online spending is tipped to grow on last year’s figures to comprise $2 billion of total sales, adding to the existing stress placed on delivery services leading to the Christmas period.
Skyrocketing demand for deliveries during the pandemic has pushed up revenue and costs for logistics companies.
In early November, the ACCC said costs from supply chain disruptions now risked being passed on to consumers, with several companies including Nick Scali and Wesfarmers warning consumers could see increased prices and further delays leading to Christmas.
Amid this, workers unions have hit supply chain companies with waves of industrial action.
The union claims that as companies compete for contracts, the budgetary pressure is being passed onto workers.
Michael Kaine, secretary of the TWU, said the union “encourages retailers to express their frustration to FedEx management and urge the transport operator to abandon its attacks on workers and resolve this dispute.”
“It is in everyone’s best interests to settle this fairly. It has gone on long enough.”
In a media statement released on Thursday, the TWU said FedEx was refusing to negotiate, “leaving workers no choice but to consider further rolling stoppages as early as tomorrow”.
Queensland and South Australia, where drivers had initially planned to strike on Wednesday, are expected to be the worst-affected states.
FedEx the holdout in union negotiations
The delivery sector has experienced rolling strikes in recent months as a result of the TWU deferring bargaining until this year because of uncertainty about the pandemic.
In early October the union reached a deal with Toll that incorporated an industry first 15% superannuation rate and enhanced job security protections such as the same pay for outside hires as for direct employees.
On November 15, the TWU announced it had struck a three-year in-principle agreement with Australian and government-owned delivery company StarTrack, which could include a 3% pay increase and a deal to ensure staff are offered the opportunity to work before labour is outsourced to contractors.
Ahead of formal voting to lock in agreements with StarTrack — along with Toll and Linfox which have also reached agreements with the union — FedEx remains the only major transport company operating in Australia to hold out on the union’s pay negotiations.
On Monday and Tuesday, around 2,000 FedEx workers undertook rolling four-hour stoppages in NSW, Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.
FedEx responded by locking out striking drivers for the rest of their eight-hour shift as well as the next full shift.
The strikes followed the rejection by the TWU of a proposed 9.25% pay increase for workers over three years.
The union did not go ahead with stoppages planned for Wednesday as workers who stopped work on Tuesday were shut out of their shifts the next day.
After an employer lockout, workers no longer have to give notice of their protected industrial action. Previously a three-day warning was required but the new legal regime means stoppages can occur without warning.