The much-respected Ken Griffin has spent over 40 years – his entire working life – behind the wheel and has been a TWU member since 1976.
He was a successful TWU Delegate at various companies over the years and we were genuinely sad when Ken announced he would be retiring from his position as the Toll Tasmania – Webb Dock Delegate after 15 years in the roll.
Ken ran a tight ship in the yard and has the full respect of fellow members because he always put their interests first, second and third.
“I was a Delegate because I just wanted to help out, to look after the other members. You feel good afterwards when you have achieved something, that you have really done something,” Ken said.
“I don’t think I have ever disappointed them, that I had to tell that what they want they cannot have. There would be nothing worse than going to the members and disappointing them.”
The secret of success for Ken was to work with company management to get them to understand “that you will only get what you want out of the workers if you show them some appreciation.”
“The Union’s first priority is to protect and improve the livelihood of members and their families and they continue to put enormous resources into acheiving these aims. My role as a Delegate was to provide support at the coalface and it is a lot easier in this day and age, because we are trained to achieve win – win outcomes through negotiation. I have learnt these skills through the training programs run by the TWU.”
A one-week strike action called two decades ago, when Brambles was taken over by Toll, set the standard for his time as the yard delegate.
“Toll offered a 5% pay increase in an EBA, but only if they could introduce KPI’s. We didn’t think KPI’s showed the members any respect and were not a good thing for anyone, so we went out and just about crippled the company. They understood then and backed down,” he said.
This tenancity and dedication to what is fair is just one reason why Ken’s yard has nearly always enjoyed 100% density since he took over and Toll jobs have become some of the best in transport.
“The money is there, the conditions are there, its all there. Most of the young guys don’t realise the TWU got those things for them, but you go to the Union meetings and take messages back to the members and they start to understand. Everyone felt they had a voice.”
TWU (VIC/TAS Branch) Secretary John Berger said Ken has made a remarkable and valuable contribution to the TWU through his various roles and the Union is much richer for his involvement.
“Ken has defended the rights of his fellow transport workers through his entire career and has directly and indirectly improved the livelihood of thousands of members and their families,” John said.
So high is the esteem that Ken is held he was featured in the book Stalwarts, a tribute to some of the longest serving members of the TWU (VIC/TAS Branch), released in 2008.
Soon after getting a driver’s license in the 1970s, Ken got a job doing deliveries for Linfox from Coles Warehouse in Moorabbin before moving to the company’s Bayswater depot.
When Linfox’s interstate depot was closed down because of issues with the company’s insurance, Ken headed to Western Australia for a holiday. But he soon landed a job carting ore from a mine near Kalgoorlie to the crusher.
After a year in the job Ken was involved in a near-fatal accident when his truck rolled in the salt plains, he spent two months in a Perth hospital and then moved home and spent four months undergoing rehabilitation in Melbourne.
After getting the all-clear, Ken started with Linfox in Yarraville where he carted fruit and vegetables in the morning and groceries in the afternoon.
His next job was carting beer for CUB in Abbotsford. Four years into the role there was a strike and all the drivers were forced to re-apply for their jobs.
Ken had a different plan and travelled to New York to get married before opting for agency work on his return to Melbourne. He drove for Mayne Nickless, Railex, Interlink and Brambles.
Brambles was taken over by Toll and this is where Ken worked for the rest of his career – mainly driving a B Double trucks on the docks delivering containers for shipment across Bass Strait.
And the most radical TWU-driven overhaul of the industry in his time?
“The biggest thing is the restricted hours and the mandatory rests and days off. (For over 20 years) I was driving 14, 15, 16-hour days, in my mid-40s I was looking at blokes who were in their 60’s doing the same thing and it was burning them out. You have to have that time off,” he said.
He also cites the work done by the Union to promote Occupational Health and Safety in the workplace as another important achievement. He recalls the days when drivers would work with thongs on their feet in the hot weather, or when there was no such thing as stell capped boots or helmets on worksites.
Ken is also a passionate supporter of the TWU’s Safe Rates campaign and having industry-related deaths recorded as industrial deaths.
“Transport is considered the most dangerous industry in Australia yet fatalities are not recorded as industrial deaths. The link between pay & safety has been known for more than 20 years & still fatalities are not represented as a real consequence of safety,” he said.
“We all need to support ‘Safe Rates’ – it saves lives, creates a safer work place and safety for all road users. Keep the TWU strong and support safe rates and save lives. Don’t allow pressure from above be the reason you did not come home tonight.”
Ken has mastered many a truck over the years but, despite all the updates and mod cons, he believes the greatest innovation has been tautliners. He still remembers the cuts on his hands from the ropes used to tie the tarps down before curtainsiders were introduced.
“It was particularly bad in the winter because the cold weather aggravated the pain. Each night after work, I would soak each hand in Dettol for half an hour. There was no such thing as gloves in those days and I suppose we really didn’t think much about it. Where I came from complaining didn’t get you very far, anyway,” he said.
And what does Ken have planned for the coming years? Just cruising.