Truckies are threatening to strike and ‘cripple food and fuel supplies across Australia’, as Toll allegedly tries to slash wages and outsource jobs

A Toll strike could take thousands of trucks off Australia’s roads. (Jason South, The Age)
  • Toll is staring down the threat of an enormous strike, as negotiations break down between management and truck drivers.
  • The Transport Workers Union (TWU) claims almost 7,000 workers could be swept up in industrial action, as the logistics company tries to change the existing workplace agreement.
  • TWU national secretary Michael Kaine alleges the changes would slash pay and conditions for new and existing workers, as the company pushes to outsource jobs. Toll denies many of the claims.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Nearly 7,000 Australian truck drivers could throw national transport into chaos as a major industrial dispute with employer Toll escalates.

On Wednesday, negotiations with the management broke down after it tried to push a new “substandard” workplace agreement that the union claims would slash pay, undermine job security and outsource roles.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) which represents the workers told Business Insider Australia that as a result it had lodged a protected action ballot with the Fair Work Commission (FWC). The ballot lays the groundwork for industrial action, with strikes sufficient to “cripple food and fuel supplies across Australia.”

Toll handles transport for a client list that includes Woolworths and Amazon, moving cargo for industries that range from mining and energy to agriculture and defence.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said action would be necessary “in the coming months” if Toll didn’t give up this “outrageous attack on the jobs of hard-working trucker drivers”.

“Over the last year, truckies worked harder than ever and delayed negotiations to assist Toll while the effect on the economy played out. During that time, profits have skyrocketed at the wealthy clients whose goods drivers have been transporting,” Kaine said.

“They are furious that demand has soared, but transport contracts are squeezed and exploitative gig economy models are expanding in transport such as AmazonFlex, forcing workers to suffer through degraded jobs.”

Specifically, the Union claims Toll wants to scrap overtime entitlements for existing workers, and hire all new ones on a part-time basis, slashing their pay to minimum wage levels and eliminating future job security for them.

Other clauses, it says, would allow Toll to outsource jobs on the cheap and allow Allegro, which just bought Toll Express, to pay staff less than they were earning previously.

Toll disputes these claims, claiming that workers are guaranteed the same rights under Allegro, and says it has agreed to two consecutive pay rises, over the next two years, over and above inflation. The company says it is seeking to continue to “engage in constructive discussions” to resolve any remaining points of difference.

“Toll Group is disappointed by this action and is continuing to engage in discussions with union representatives to reach a fair and reasonable agreement for our employees and the business,” a spokesperson told Business Insider Australia.

“Toll transport workers enjoy industry leading pay and conditions. Australians who have already endured supply chain disruptions because of COVID will find any action that deliberately causes further uncertainty very hard to fathom.”

But right now, both groups look to be on a collision course. The TWU argues that the proposed changes would only place drivers under even greater pressure in an industry where crashes have cost 885 lives in the five years to 2020.

“The agreement proposed by Toll will lower standards in an industry already in crisis. Drivers know all too well what happens when conditions and pay are dragged down in transport: stressed, chronically fatigued drivers are forced to work long hours, speed and skip rest breaks resulting in deaths and injuries on our roads,” Kaine said.

“Toll workers are taking this stance for themselves and their families but also for safety across the industry. We should be lifting standards in Australia’s deadliest industry, not pulling them down.”

It comes after “18 months of sustained Christmas-level demand” experienced during the pandemic, as retailers enjoyed a boom in online sales while Australians worked from home.

Toll revenues jumped by 25% to $6.3 billion last year but the company still posted a $1.1 billion net loss amid ballooning costs and narrow margins.

The union now claims the logistics company is looking to win more jobs at the expense of workers who have made the boom possible, campaigning for raises double what is currently being offered.

“We know that Toll’s clients like Amazon have made multibillion-dollar profits throughout the pandemic,” lead negotiator and TWU branch secretary Richard Olsen.

“The transport workers who’ve made that happen should be rewarded but instead their jobs and earnings are under threat. Toll workers take pride in their jobs and enjoy supplying our communities with essential goods. They do not take a decision to go on strike lightly, but Toll management has left them no choice but to pursue this.”