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Australian workers strike against FedEx shift to unfair and unsafe outsourcing

30 Sep 2021
Credit: TWU Australia
ITF vows support and further global action against unsafe road transport business practices.

Road transport workers at FedEx yards in Australia are striking today [Thursday 30 September 2021] after management’s repeated refusal to address job security and safety concerns.

The action is one of a series of rolling 24-hour stoppages at various logistics companies across Australia, organised by ITF affiliate, the Transport Workers Union (TWU). Workers are protesting outsourcing, part of a wider problem driven by the unethical practices of the retail and tech companies at the top of road transport supply chains. 

The strikes signals unrest around the world as online retailers and other large clients pursue unworkable business models, often at the expense of workers’ conditions and road safety. The TWU estimates a truck driver is killed every ten days on the roads of Australia.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with our sisters and brothers in Australia,” said Stephen Cotton, ITF general secretary. “Their struggle for job security is one we’re seeing across the sector. Online retailers and logistics companies are trying to drive down costs through outsourcing and app-based platforms. But they are creating horrible uncertainty for workers and their families. What’s more, they are putting pressure on drivers to work longer hours under dangerous conditions, resulting in poor safety for everyone who uses the roads.”

“The ITF calls on the companies who use road transport to recognise the devastating effect their business model is having.”

Huge support for strike

Workers voted with a whopping 97% endorsement of the strike at FedEx, the TWU reports. Talks broke down last week, when the company rejected demands for caps on outside hire and for existing employees to be guaranteed work before contracting out is considered. The company also refused to guarantee the same pay and conditions for outsourced jobs.

The action follows a strike by 2000 workers at logistics company StarTrack last week. TWU members at several other companies, including Toll, Linfox and Bevchain, have also voted in favour of industrial action. 

E-commerce is putting established transport companies under increasing pressure to outsource and cut pay and conditions. The business model of these companies — and of app-based delivery platforms such as Amazon Flex — undercuts traditional companies by treating workers as self-employed, paying less and offering no real job security. Companies claim this gives workers more flexibility, but research by ITF affiliates (Australia, India) suggests drivers feel under pressure to work faster, for longer hours, and at more unsociable times. These are all factors that increase the risks of accidents. The new business models are demonstrably unsafe.

“There is a simple solution to stop this downward spiral,” said Noel Coard, ITF Inland Transport Sections Secretary. “Governments must work with unions and other stakeholders to set safe standards on pay and conditions. This is the ‘Safe Rates’ approach and it has been shown to work. If pay and conditions are regulated in an even-handed way, then companies are freed from violating workers’ rights and can instead compete on the quality of their service.”

“Everyone wins with Safe Rates. Transport companies and their clients get a less volatile market. Workers get better pay and job security, and there are fewer accidents on the roads.”

Week of action in support of Safe Rates

The ITF has organised a Week of Action for Decent Work and Safety in the Road Transport Industry from 21 to 28 October. It will call on governments to introduce Safe Rates systems, and clients and transport companies to end their unsafe and unsustainable business practices.  During the week, unions will show solidarity with ITF affiliates engaged in industrial action in countries including Australia and South Korea.

South Korea enacted a Safe Rates systems in 2020, which has already proven to have positive safety outcomes. However, large transport clients want the system to be abolished.

“These companies seem determined to risk South Korean road users’ lives in pursuit of small cost savings,” said Coard. “They remain blinkered to the longer-term benefits of this type of system.”

Unsafe and unsustainable business models are the root cause of the driver shortages globally. During the action week, the ITF and its affiliates will promote Safe Rates as the only workable solution. The Safe Rates system has already been endorsed by governments, trade unions and employersrepresentatives at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) through the Road Transport Guidelines. In addition to Safe Rates, the guidelines make governments, transport companies and clients responsible for a wide range of standards applying to all drivers regardless of employment relationship. These include:

  • Freedom of association and collective bargaining rights
  • Occupational health and safety protocols, training and preventive measures
  • Transparent documentation and contracting practices
  • Expanding women’s employment through improved supply chain management to allow for work-life balance, prevention of violence and harassment, and adequate sanitation facilities
  • Human rights due diligence
  • Inspection and enforcement

“As the union representing transport workers globally, we issue this warning to management at FedEx in Australia and logistics and client companies around the world,” said Coard. “This isn’t a local difficulty. You’re abusing changes in the way people shop to make life miserable for transport workers and their families. Unions won’t stand for it. We have a solution that gives workers a fair deal, makes the roads safer and creates a more sustainable road transport industry for us all.”