There is currently no stronger example of the disrespect for owner-drivers in the transport industry than the discovery by the TWU that Toll failed to pay invoices on time, despite an agreement in place over payments, on 5187 occasions.
Now the Transport Workers Union is holding Toll to account in the NSW Supreme Court, suing Toll for almost $52 million for the breaches of the agreements they made. The court case could see Toll pay penalties of up to $10,000 for each of the 5187 late payments it made to almost 250 owner-drivers.
The TWU knows how tough it is out there for owner drivers whose small businesses are running on very thin margins. Owner-drivers face ever-increasing running costs, toll road cost increases by Transurban and more. It was in good faith that owner drivers 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.
Now as 7000 Toll employees have been voting on whether to go on strike over Toll’s proposed enterprise agreement, which would destroy decent jobs at the transport operator, 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 TWU calls this what it is, 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.
These actions by Toll are the tip of the iceberg for the transport industry. In other negotiations for new agreements across transport, company plans for “B rates” to strip rights, rates, conditions back to the bone, and hard-fought for standards on superannuation will be brought back to minimums. These are some of the proposals TWU negotiating committees have faced.
Despite record profits for companies at the top of the supply chain, even during the pandemic, the squeeze for anyone in a driver’s cab is getting tighter, whether they be an owner driver or employee.
We should not forget that the squeeze comes from clients at the top like Amazon whose profits ballooned 224 per cent to $11 billion in just the first quarter this year. The TWU fight is about holding these companies to account and stopping the “race to the bottom” that sees bankruptcies and a lowering of standards for the small business operator. Profit must never be the priority in this industry if it comes at the cost of transport worker lives and livelihoods.
To lift the standards across transport, remain informed, have conversations with everybody in the yard as to what the fight is about and know why it is important to stand together. On the road we are choosing to forge a transport industry future that we want for our children and grandchildren.