Aldi has lost an appeal to silence truck drivers speaking out about safety in its supply chain. The Full Court of the Federal Court also directed that the wealthy retailer must pay full costs for the appeal and is likely to have to pay further costs for taking the lengthy case against drivers and the TWU.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine urged the wealthy retailer to meet to discuss how it can play a role in making our roads safer.
“We are very pleased that free speech has won out today and that the Federal Court has recognised the right of truck drivers to speak out on safety. Aldi, a global retailer worth billions of dollars, took this lengthy and costly case to shut drivers up and despite failing spectacularly, decided to appeal. That too has now failed. It is our hope that Aldi will now see sense, come to the table and discuss its role and responsibility in reducing deaths and injuries on our roads,” said Kaine.
“Truck drivers came to us with evidence of serious risks to safety in the Aldi supply chain. We heard of drivers forced to work fatigued, of drivers being ridiculed and pushed out of their jobs for speaking out, of drivers not paid proper rates or super, of a lack of weighing systems to gauge if a truck was being overloaded, of flooded and badly lit loading docks, of blocked fire exits and rotten meat left lying around. When we went to Aldi stating there was a problem instead of sitting down and discussing how to make things safer they went to court. For an industry with the highest workplace deaths and a disproportionate link to road deaths this is simply not acceptable,” Kaine added.
“This is a time when shoppers are aware of just how important truck drivers are in getting them the supplies they need for Christmas. Drivers have also proved themselves to be essential workers throughout the pandemic. The notion that a major retailer like Aldi would pursue drivers in the way they have would shock most Australians,” he said.
The full bench backed the initial court’s decision that the TWU “has long campaigned for action in respect to its concerns about safety and fairness in the road transport industry”. It agreed that “the TWU’s concern in respect of the transport industry was genuine and understandable having regard to road fatality statistics and the manner in which ALDI was projecting its business model to the public”.
The Full Court of the Federal Court found that the original judgment erred in restricting costs for the TWU and ordered that this be re-examined.
The case began in August 2017 when Aldi failed to secure an injunction to stop drivers speaking out and protesting about rates and safety in its supply chain.
Two weeks ago Coles and the Transport Workers Union signed a charter on standards in road transport and the gig economy focusing on safety, driver education and mental health. The charter includes a formal consultation process between the TWU and Coles to ensure an ongoing emphasis on safety and to establish mechanisms through which safety issues can be identified and addressed.
The TWU has also signed a charter with Woolworths to improve safety on the roads.
Transport is Australia’s deadliest industry with Safe Work Australia statistics for 2019 showing a jump to 58 transport workers killed, up from 38 in 2018.
In the 12 months to March this year, 176 people died in truck crashes. There were 167 fatalities from truck crashes in the previous year, according to the Bureau for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.
A Government report states: “Heavy trucks are disproportionately involved in casualty crashes: approximately 16 per cent of road crash fatalities and 4 per cent of injuries involve these vehicles. In general, involvement of a heavy truck is associated with more severe injury outcomes. Heavy trucks account for only 2.4 per cent of registrations and approximately 7 per cent of vehicle-kilometres travelled.”
The Federal Government in 2016 tore down an independent tribunal which was investigating risks to safety in trucking despite its own report showing it was cutting truck crashes. It has failed to replace it with any similar body.