Australia will need to brace for major disruptions from Friday as it experiences its first road transport strike in more than a decade.
Thousands of truck drivers will go on strike on Friday after negotiations broke down between multi-billion dollar logistics company Toll and the Transport Workers Union (TWU).
The industrial action, supported by 94% of the workforce, will see workers pack it in for a full 24 hours, grinding deliveries to a halt, and creating a wave of backlogs and delays.
It comes after crisis talks on Monday failed to resolve the long-running dispute, with the union claiming Toll wants to slash workers’ overtime and bring in contractors as part of a bid to win contracts from multinationals.
“It is an abomination that billionaire retailers like Amazon are smashing profit records while ripping off transport supply chains and crushing the jobs of the truck drivers who’ve risked the health of their families to deliver parcels and keep shelves stocked,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said.
“Toll workers need guarantees that they won’t be sliced and diced Qantas-style and replaced by a cut-price, underemployed workforce. They don’t want to go on strike, especially during a pandemic, but they must because they have everything to lose.”
It comes as Toll struggles to keep expenditure down as transport costs outstrip revenue growth and it tries to win new business.
The action represents the first ever strike at Toll, a subsidiary of Japan Post, and the first time since 2010 that road workers have gone on strike.
“It is unfortunate we’ve arrived at this point,” Alan Beacham, president of Toll’s Global Express division, said in a statement provided to Business Insider Australia. “Threatening industrial action at a time when our country is in the middle of a global pandemic is playing politics with people’s lives and jobs.”
Toll claims the strike “risks disrupting” the national vaccine rollout and “could result in terrible consequences for medical staff and patients”.
The TWU says the allegation is dishonest, pointing out that medical supplies are excluded from the industrial action.
“Toll’s behaviour is reprehensible. The transport giant is responsible for two crises at the same time: a cruel attack on good, safe transport jobs, and mass disruption to food and fuel supplies,” Kaine said.
“Both of these disasters would have been fixed today if Toll had taken a reasonable approach and backed down on plans to trash jobs and drag down standards in Australia’s deadliest industry.”
Both sides in fact have accused the other of lying. Toll says union claims are overblown and that Toll’s “generous” enterprising bargaining agreement will still be the best in the industry after negotiations are concluded.
“Industrial action only benefits the TWU, who like to show off in front of their union mates. It hurts employees and hurts our business. Let’s stop wasting time, get back to the negotiating table and sign this deal,” Beacham said.
But the TWU is steadfast, with Kaine arguing Toll’s proposals threaten to smash employee job security.
“To do nothing would be to wait like sitting ducks for the jobs they’ve skilfully done for decades to be given away to the lowest common denominator. If workers had accepted this today, their jobs could have been contracted out moments after signing on the dotted line.”