Coles has rejected union claims the supermarket giant is prepared to risk the lives of truck drivers to keep grocery prices down.
Up to 200 workers blocked a major road in Sydney’s city centre on Thursday, protesting the federal government’s decision to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.
Workers wearing white T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Coles pushing safety down the chain’ sat across Goulburn Street and observed a minute’s silence for International Workers’ Memorial Day before being moved on by police.
Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) NSW secretary Michael Aird says politicians and big businesses must be held to account, including Coles, “the biggest effective employer of transport workers in this country”.
“They’ve said ‘We’re prepared to sacrifice a life, we’re prepared to sacrifice a transport worker or member of the community, so packets of peas don’t go up by two cents’,” Mr Aird said.
However, Coles has denied Mr Aird’s claims, saying they contract their freight services through providers who put “enormous effort into safety measures for their employees”, such as Toll and Linfox.
“We’re not even the largest supermarket in Australia, so it beggars belief that we’d be the biggest user of freight,” a Coles spokesperson said.
“These are more deliberate lies from the TWU, which regularly engages in media stunts in an effort to boost its dwindling membership.”
More than 2500 Australians had died in truck crashes during the past decade and protests would continue until working conditions changed, Mr Aird said.
“We say to the community today: think of Malcolm Turnbull next time there is a death or injury on our roads because he will have blood on his hands,” he said.
TWU member and owner-driver Dawid Wojcik says the tribunal would have not only ensured safe pay rates but could have lifted the standards of the industry.
“I think we’re still trying to come to terms with why the tribunal was scrapped rather than why it wasn’t put on hold, or the issues and flaws with it addressed,” he said.
He knew of people who were expected to “fudge logbooks” and skip breaks to make time slots, driving 80-90 hours per week.
“When they have mortgages and families that they have to commit to, they don’t have any other choice,” he said.
Vigils were also held in Brisbane and Adelaide to mourn workers who had died while on the job.