The protest was one of several rallies held around Australia ahead of the annual general meeting of Coles’ parent company Wesfarmers. Protesters highlighted the 330 deaths in truck-related crashes each year because of the pressure by wealthy retailers.
Coles’ low cost contracts are forcing truck drivers to speed, drive long hours with over-loaded vehicles.
Relatives of people killed in truck-crashes and TWU activists confronted Coles’ bosses during the annual general meeting in Perth yesterday over the company’s stance on safety. When pressed on whether the company would sign up to a safety charter, Wesfarmers chairman Bob Every replied: “Short answer is no.”
The TWU said this response showed the company was insisting on putting profits above people.
“Coles is a multi-billion company making money off the backs of devastated families caught up in the deadly squeeze on transport,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.
Wesfarmers reported profits of $2.44 billion this year while Coles’ revenues are $38 billion. But while the company’s growth and sales are up, its annual accounts show it has cut freight costs by $13 million.
Lystra Tagliaferri, whose husband David died in 2011 when a fatigued truck driver veered off the road, said ahead of a rally outside the AGM she supports the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which is examining pressure on drivers and safe pay rates. “The big companies are responsible for what is going on,” she said.
The Transport Workers’ Union is demanding the Government drop its opposition to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal after a $7 million link between Wesfarmers and the Liberal Party was revealed. Coles opposes the Tribunal. Over $5 million came from dividends from shareholdings in Wesfarmers to the secretive fundraising entity of the Liberal Party, the Cormack Foundation.
Coles denies there is a problem with safety in their supply chain. However an audit this year of three transport operators at the Coles Distribution Centre at Eastern Creek in NSW found 126 breaches of National Heavy Vehicle Regulations. These included drivers forced to mark loading and unloading time as rest time and drivers denied their rest time during more than 11 hours driving.
Employers, governments and trade unions at the United Nations body, the International Labor Organization, recently backed safe remuneration and supply chain accountability based on the Australian Safe Rates model, to tackle the root causes of the high global death toll in trucking.
A Safe Work Australia report in July showed the extent of the safety problem in transport. Over 30% of transport employers say workers ignore safety rules to get the job done. One in five transport employers accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than 2% in other industries. One in five break safety rules to meet deadlines – this compares with just 6% of employers in other industries.