GLOBAL supermarket giant Aldi has steamrolled through the Australian retail sector courtesy of cheap prices that undercut the competition.
Sadly, it is now obvious that a key ingredient of the German giant’s success is a low-cost wage strategy.
There is currently no Aldi in Tasmania but, if the groundswell of local support is anything to go by, it is only a matter of time.
No doubt some shoppers will save a few dollars, but what will be the cost?
READ JOHN BERGER’S OPINION ARTICLE FROM TODAY’S HOBART MERCURY – Cheap food at Aldi comes at a big cost for truck drivers and families
It is the hidden shame of our supermarket industry that truck drivers in Aldi’s supply chain are among the lowest paid in Australia.
This needs immediate remedy as grocery and wholesale retailers control 33 per cent of truck movements in Australia and, therefore, set the industry standard.
The pay packets of employee drivers and owner drivers dwindle profoundly after the employee takes on a contract to deliver goods for Aldi.
It almost immediately follows that these drivers find themselves neglecting vehicle maintenance, breaking fatigue laws and working unsafe hours just to make ends meet.
For blue-collar workers, it boils down to a heartbreaking choice between doing what it takes to feed the family or doing the right thing in regards to community safety.
The latter, of course, is driving responsibly but often going broke, selling the truck and winding up in another industry or on a dole queue.
Drivers who choose family and self-preservation, which is obviously all but a very few, will start to behave erratically and cut corners.
They “rat run” through suburbs to avoid traffic lights and clusters, race past schools and shops, run red lights and tailgate, corner at ridiculous speeds and roll trucks.
Some turn to drugs to keep the eyelids open and the rubber on the road.
They are typically middle-aged and married with kids, once proud truckers with enviable safety records.
Many now drive with rapidly beating hearts, on borderline legal tyres and fatigued in heavy traffic and rapidly changing visual environments.
Their constant travelling companion is the stress of becoming that driver on the nightly news, in tears at the scene of a fatal.
This is the sort of pain and chaos created by Aldi’s low-cost contracts squeezing the life out of drivers.
Truck drivers have historically played a crucial role for the Tasmanian economy and the state’s communities.
The saying goes that every Tasmanian knows at least one truck driver and it is genuinely sad that soon all of these good citizens could face the same potentially life or death decision outlined above.
Let me explain.
As it stands, when Aldi opens in Tasmania any driver working in what will become its supply chain will get a forced pay cut.
Unfortunately, as there are no surplus jobs in Tasmanian transport, they will find it extremely difficult to simply shift employers to peg back those lost wages.
Transport companies outside Aldi’s supply chain, aware their workers cannot move, will then use Aldi’s poor rates as a new benchmark and attempt to lower wages.
This will ignite a rapid and ruthless race to drive down contracts and wages across the Tasmanian transport and logistics sectors and, of course, the only real losers will be workers slipping back down the income ladder.
On October 13, hundreds of Aldi drivers parked the truck, grabbed a placard and joined a national day of action held outside Aldi supermarkets in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth.
There will be another on November 15 and drivers have vowed to keep rolling them out until the company takes the safety of drivers in its supply chain and the travelling public seriously.
The protests were held only after the Federal Court rejected Aldi’s application for an injunction to force drivers from publicly highlighting its poor safety practices.
It is appalling that this multinational’s solution to its own flawed attitude to safety was not to clean up the mess, but ask an Australian court to gag hardworking Australians from speaking out. Thankfully that failed.
Aldi is appealing a separate Federal Court decision which struck down a bogus enterprise agreement voted on by just two members of staff.
The agreement denied minimum award rates and classified drivers of large trucks as store workers.
Supply chain safety should be a fundamental part of our road culture like seat belts and speed limits.
Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics figures show deaths nationally from truck-related crashes in 2017 are up 7 per cent from 2016.
Safe Work Australia data shows 40 per cent of work deaths involve transport workers and there have been 152 in truck-related crashes in Australia this year.
The TWU has fought hard for members in recent years to get big players to address supply-chain safety.
Coles and Woolworths are now at the table but when workers invited Aldi to the table they were told to get lost.
John Berger is secretary of the Victorian and Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Transport Workers Union.