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ITF week of action highlights dire conditions in road transport industry and offers solutions

21 Oct 2021
Credit: TWU Australia
  • Accountability at the top of supply chains and improvements in driver pay, terms and security can solve shortages and safety problems in one stroke
  • Action spreads from Australia to Korea, then globally as workers fight for  Safe Rates, fair conditions and supply chain regulation

Ten people were killed in truck crashes in Australia, including two drivers, last week alone, according to the Transport Workers Union (TWU). This is just one terrible consequence of flawed business models used in the road transport industry today.

A strike by Australian road transport workers at logistics company StarTrack will kick off the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF) Week of Action for Decent Work and Safety in Road Transport today [21 October], with the possibility of more action in Australia next week.  

The TWU is calling on transport companies to guarantee job security, and on the Australian federal government to establish an independent tribunal to set fair rates and conditions and stop a race to the bottom in the industry.

“Job guarantees and job security from road transport employers is a vital first step in ensuring that supply chains are safe and secure,” said Stephen Cotton, the ITF’s General Secretary. “But a real industry-wide solution will only come when companies at the top of supply chains take responsibility for drivers’ conditions and safety.”

“This is why the TWU’s demand for a new tribunal to set industry standards and hold these economic employers to account is so important. There is a demonstrable link between the long, unsociable hours some drivers are asked to work and the rate of accidents we see on the roads, and the pressure starts at the top with multinational retailers who contract for road services. This Week of Action isn’t just about improving job security. It’s about saving lives and creating a sustainable industry.”

Timely action

The Week of Action comes just as cracks in global supply chains are widening, with driver shortages and port bottlenecks being reported in many countries.

“This may be driven by an economic bounce back after Covid-19,” said Cotton, “but the truth is the thumbscrew tactics used by many online retailers — the so-called ‘Amazon effect’ — have created unsustainable business models in road transport. The solution is obvious: give drivers reasonable pay and conditions and you will have no driver shortage.”

In Korea, truck drivers have voted to strike and will announce action plans in support of Safe Rates legislation at the start of the Week of Action. Korea introduced a Safe Rates system, which sets minimum standards for driver pay and conditions, in the interests of improving road safety. However, big logistics companies and their customers are lobbying to have the system repealed, despite clear evidence it is working. Globally, unions will lend their voices with solidarity actions targeting Korean Embassies.  

“We are greatly moved by the solidarity from unions around the world who are joining their voices with ours demanding the Korean Safe Rates system is preserved and expanded,” said Bongju Lee, President of the Korean Public Service and Transport WorkersUnion Cargo TruckersSolidarity Division. “We go into this struggle knowing that the fight for Safe Rates in Korea is an important part of a worldwide fight to address unsafe, unsustainable conditions in road transport supply chains.

Road transport unions take a stand against global ‘decent work shortages’

Across North America and Europe supply chains have become log-jammed, with the need for drivers reaching crisis levels.

Earlier this month, the UK Government announced a temporary visa-scheme for non-national truck drivers in an attempt to keep petrol stations and shelves stocked. In the US, President Biden has stepped in personally to alleviate bottlenecks at the Port of Los Angeles, due in part to a shortage of port truck drivers. Following his meeting with unions, logistics companies and port operators, the port, and its drivers, will now operate 24/7.

“The problem we are experiencing is not so much a matter of a lack of drivers, it is a shortage of decent work” said Jim Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters and Chair of the ITF Road Section.

“Port truck drivers are misclassified. They are often not paid a living wage and are poorly treated. The retailers at the top of supply chains who have benefited from this unsustainable situation must be held to account. We are happy to be standing together with road transport workers globally this week to put forward a solution to this crisis.”

A court in California recently ordered XPO Logistics to pay 784 current and former drivers US$30 million. It upheld the drivers’ claims that they had been illegally misclassified as contractors rather than employees. A new law SB 338 passed earlier this month will make retailers that contract with XPO jointly responsible in future cases of misclassification.

Week of Action for Decent Work and Safety in the Road Transport

The ITF’s Week of Action for Decent Work and Safety in Road Transport runs from 21 to 28 October During the week, ITF unions around the world will take action - from delivering letters to Korean Embassies in solidarity and support of Korean Safe Rates to lobbying governments and companies to support decent work and safety in the road transport industry embodied in Road Transport Guidelines adopted at the ILO in 2019.

In addition to Safe Rates, the ITF is pushing the guidelines as a solution that will make governments, transport companies and clients responsible for standards applying to all drivers regardless of employment status and relationship, including:

  • 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 part of the Week of Action, unions in close to twenty countries have actions planned in support of better conditions and supply chain regulation in the industry spanning Uganda, Senegal, Kenya, Comoros, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Mauritius, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Palestine and the United States, among others.