Food and fuel deliveries around the nation could be disrupted for 24 hours on Friday as the transport union and logistics giant Toll Group point the finger blaming each other for a planned strike.
About 7000 workers at the country’s largest road freight company will go on strike after talks between the two sides on Monday failed to resolve disputes over wage rates, overtime, and contractors in a proposed new enterprise agreement.
Transport Workers Union lead negotiator Richard Olsen said Toll was not giving workers the job security they needed, forcing the strike. “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,” Mr Olsen said.
But in a statement, Toll said its workers, who earn an average of about $95,000 a year and receive superannuation of 14.75 per cent, had the best pay deal in the industry and would continue to.
Toll’s global express division president Alan Beacham argued the industrial action would only benefit the union. “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,” Mr Beacham said.
He said Toll was used to working through difficult conditions, including fires and floods. “We can assure customers their goods will be transported during any potential industrial action,” Mr Beacham said.
But Toll also said in its statement there was a risk of disruption to vaccine supplies because its vehicles carry the inoculating vials. That was flatly denied by the union, which said in its statement that its strikes had “never and will never disrupt medical supplies or vaccines”.
Australia’s industrial laws only permit strikes after a vote of workers, which in Toll’s case saw 94 per cent support strikes. But they can be stopped by the Fair Work Commission where they cause significant harm to a third party, which could include people and businesses waiting on Toll deliveries.
Companies like Amazon and Uber loom in the background of the dispute because they operate in the transport industry but their drivers are independent contractors, which means they do not have a minimum wage or the right to go on strike without risk of being fired.