Fresh union troubles for Coles

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has attacked Coles for putting truck drivers’ safety at risk, saying it wants the supermarket giant to take part in a public debate on the issue.

TWU secretary Tony Sheldon was speaking in Sydney on Thursday, a day after about 20 union members gathered outside a Coles store on Sydney’s George St as part of a national protest against the retailer.

Sheldon said Coles’ response to the truck drivers’ concerns was not good enough.

“What Coles refuse (sic) to do is take responsibility for the systematic failure in their systems and their supply chain,” he told reporters.

Sheldon argued that excessive hours and pressures to meet deadlines were linked to deaths on the roads, saying the supermarket giant should engage more with the issue.

“I challenge Coles to a public debate,” he said.

A TWU spokeswoman said the union wanted the debate in the “public sphere”, rather than one-on-one.

Sheldon pointed to a recent Department of Infrastructure and Transport report that found 233 people died from 204 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks or buses in the 12 months to December last year.

He said the report showed that between July and September 2011, the number of deaths from truck crashes increased in South Australia and Queensland.

The same report found that fatal crashes involving heavy rigid trucks (larger than 4.5 tonnes) had decreased by 13.2 per cent compared to the following year.

Asked if the union would also be targeting other retailers, Sheldon said Coles was consistently showing up in member surveys as the biggest culprit of putting pressure on truck drivers.

A Coles spokesman reiterated the retailer’s statement of Wednesday, that if the union had “any actual evidence of road safety breaches, they are obliged under law to report them to the authorities”.

He said Coles took transport practices very seriously, and in “no way do our transport contracts with such companies force drivers into unsafe or illegal practices”.



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