The Transport Workers’ Union has lodged a complaint in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission over the underpayment of 13 truck drivers in the Coles supply chain.

The drivers were each underpaid by $6,000.

The case comes as the Fair Work Ombudsman on Monday revealed that a Western Australian transport company admitted underpaying a driver by $20,000 so it could compete for contracts.

The TWU is urging major retailers to sign up to safety pledges which include paying transport companies sufficiently so that they can cover their costs and pay their drivers the correct safe rates.

Underpayment of truck drivers is widespread as major retailers like Coles continue to cut their transport costs with truck drivers at the bottom ultimately paying for it.

“This exposes the deadly link between low cost contracts and poor rates for drivers. When drivers aren’t paid enough they are put under pressure to skip breaks, speed, drive for longer with overloaded vehicles in a stressed and tired state. Sweating drivers and pushing them to their limit ends in carnage on our roads,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.

Trucking is Australia’s deadliest profession with drivers 15 times more likely to die than any other profession, according to Safe Work Australia.

“Companies like Coles need to wake up to the role they are playing in their supply chains: what they do and what they pay has a direct effect on the lives of drivers and on the death toll on our roads,” Sheldon added.

The case highlighted by the Fair Work Ombudsman involves a truck driver not paid for loading or unloading his truck for four years, not paid the correct hourly rate and not paid travel allowances.

The transport company told the ombudsman “tenders for new contracts were fiercely competitive and lower prices could only be achieved through lower wages.”

Other examples of underpayment of drivers uncovered by the Fair Work Ombudsman include:

–          A dozen truck drivers in Perth underpaid $93,000 after their employer paid them below the long distance kilometre rate for a year

–          A truck driver in northern Queensland underpaid by $52,000 who was not being paid the minimum hourly rate and not paid travel entitlements for several years

–          A truck driver in South Australia who was underpaid $19,500

A TWU survey of truck drivers found:

–          46% of drivers in the Coles supply chain feel pressure to skip breaks,

–          28% feel pressured to speed

–          26% feel pressured to carry overweight loads

–          Many of these transport companies also operate on small margins and sacrifice or delay essential maintenance to meet the economic squeeze placed on them by Coles

The National Transport Commission’s report on Remuneration and Safety in the Australian Heavy Vehicle Industry (2008) said practices by the retail industry affecting road transport “can play a direct and significant role in causing hazardous practices”. It adds: “There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use”.

Extracted in full from Big Rigs.