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Union sues Toll over late payments to owner-drivers

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The Transport Workers Union is suing Toll for almost $52 million in the NSW Supreme Court for allegedly breaching its contracted payment terms with owner-drivers on more than 5000 occasions during the pandemic Christmas period.

The case comes as 7000 Toll employees begin voting on whether to go on strike over Toll’s proposed enterprise agreement, which the union said would destroy decent jobs at the transport operator.

The union also alleges that Toll aims to bring in new workers and outside hire on up to 30 per cent less pay and conditions, threatening the jobs and earnings of the current workforce.

The case, which will be heard in early September, could see Toll pay penalties of up to $10,000 for each of the 5187 late payments the union alleges it made to almost 250 owner-drivers.

TWU NSW State Secretary Richard Olsen said that over the last year, Toll’s treatment of truck drivers has been an “utter disgrace”.

“First, workers were forced to bear the brunt of two cyber attacks, then owner drivers endured months of late payments during the high intensity Christmas period. At the same time, Toll was cooking up a plan to obliterate the decent jobs of its employees,” said Olsen.

“Workers are understandably furious. While the TWU kicks off a case over more than 5000 breaches to payment terms with owner-drivers, another 7000 employees have begun voting on strikes to demand job security.

“Owner-drivers run small businesses – usually just one person with one truck. They operate on wafer-thin margins, yet in good faith they agreed to extend their payment terms with Toll for six months. Once that time was up, Toll spat in their face and refused to go back to paying them weekly as per their contracted terms.

“This appalling treatment of workers while those at the top of transport supply chains reap multibillion dollar profits highlights the urgency for the Federal Government to step up and regulate Australia’s deadliest industry.”

Toll recently reported a jump in revenues during the pandemic, $6.3 billion from $4.7 billion in 2020.

But its transport costs also ballooned highlighting the tight margins transport companies are forced to operate under by major retailers, manufacturers and oil companies through their low-cost contracts, said the union.

Toll has been approached for comment about the looming legal action over contracts.

Late last month the TWU said Toll has refused any pay increase for its workforce to cover the 2020 period of extreme demand, substituting it with a $750 one off payment inclusive of superannuation.

But a Toll spokesperson told Big Rigs that its offer of a pay increase and a sign-on bonus is above CPI and ensures Toll employees remain some of the most well-paid transport workers in the country, with the highest superannuation guarantee (14.75 per cent) in the industry.

“The TWU says that it wants to raise standards throughout the industry, but is instead taking pot shots at Toll, whose pay and conditions are at the top of our sector,” said the spokesperson.

“Meanwhile, we have seen a steady increase in the gap between Toll wages and conditions and that of our competitors, allowing them to undercut and win work from us, resulting in less job security for our employees.”

The Toll spokesperson said it is unfortunate the union is making workers’ jobs less secure by threatening industrial action and seeking to undermine Toll.

“If they really cared about the job security of Toll employees they would do the right thing, come back to the negotiating table, and agree on a fair and equitable deal for both our employees and the company.”

UPDATE – August 9

A Toll spokeswoman said this is the latest example of the TWU trying to distract Toll and gain leverage during the current EBA negotiations.

“Their claim is completely spurious and without merit and we will defend it vigorously in court,” they said in a statement.

“Once again the union is lying about our offer to our employees. Contrary to their claims, Toll has the best EBA in the entire industry and will still have the best EBA once these negotiations are concluded.

“One thing we and the union do agree on – our employees deserve a pay rise. We’re offering a lump-sum $750 payment, while still offering above CPI increases of 1.5 per cent, back paid to July 1, 2021 and 1.75 per cent from July 1, 2022.

“The TWU says that it wants to raise standards throughout the industry, but is instead taking pot shots at Toll, whose pay and conditions are at the top of our sector. Meanwhile, we have seen a steady increase in the gap between Toll wages and conditions and that of our competitors, allowing them to undercut and win work from us, resulting in less job security for our employees.

“Instead of attacking Toll at the top of the sector, why aren’t the TWU going after the bottom of the sector to raise the standards there? That is where real change needs to take place.

“We agree an increase in pay, conditions and safety standards should be met by the rest of the industry. However, by continuing to try and use Toll’s employees as a way to attack our competitors, the union is making Toll jobs less secure. If they really cared about the job security of Toll employees they would do the right thing, stop playing these silly games, and agree on a fair and equitable deal for both our employees and the company.” 

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