It was a poor week for free speech in Australia.
Firstly, supermarket giant ALDI was back in the Federal Court attempting to silence truck drivers and stop them from protesting and speaking out about safety in the wealthy retailer’s supply chain.
Secondly, the Turnbull Government’s building industry watchdog – the Australian Building and Construction Commission – issued new Building Code rules that specifically bans that great Australian democratic symbol of freedom and workers rights – the Eureka Flag – from being displayed on a building site. If an employer breaches the Code, they are ineligible to compete for Government work.
The changes also include making the display of a single union logo on equipment on a construction site a breach of code. Union logos were permissible under the previous rules unless they were ‘voluminous or large scale’. This would mean, for example, that a union sticker on a hard hat would be a breach of the Code.
When workers speak out about safety or pay and conditions in the workplace, some big businesses will do all they can to silence them. This, according to TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon, is why Aldi was in the Federal Court.
“It is imperative that the right of drivers to protest and speak out is protected and upheld. There has been an unprecedented increase in deaths from truck crashes recently. This case is about ensuring that drivers can voice their concerns about pressure in the industry without being gagged by retailers like Aldi,” Tony said.
Aldi drivers have spoken out about breaches of fatigue rules and harassment when they raise safety issues. One driver was consistently told “everyone else is doing it, you are the only one with a problem”.
Read TWU (VIC/TAS Branch) Secretary John Berger’s editorial in The Hobart Mercury – Cheap Food at Aldi Comes at a High Cost for Truck Drivers and their Families.
Aldi last August pursued a case attacking free speech after it was refused a court injunction stopping drivers from protesting and speaking out. Hundreds of drivers have held protests at Aldi’s moves, including a national day of co-ordinated actions last November in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
Watch the video of TWU (VIC/TAS BRANCH) SECRETARY JOHN BERGER address the rally over Aldi’s outrageous treatment of workers.
John said many companies and drivers in the Aldi supply chain were forced to break road and safety rules to put food on the table and pay for basic household expenses.
“This global multinational’s failed solution to its own flawed attitude to safety was to ask a court to force hard-working Australians from raising their concerns publicly,” Mr Berger said.
“Our drivers have had enough and are struggling to cope with the pressures brought on them by Aldi and, to a driver, they are worried sick about the worsening road safety this mess has created and the fear that fatalities will occur.
“And so we will continue to protest outside Aldi stories until the company starts taking the safety of workers in its supply chain and the travelling public seriously by lifting its attitude to safety standards.”