StarTrack truck drivers to strike for 24 hours next week, as Australia Post struggles with record volume of parcels

© Provided by ABC Business The Transport Workers Union’s national secretary, Michael Kaine, says the “Amazon Effect” is driving standards down across major transport operators in Australia (ABC News: John Gunn)

StarTrack workers will hold a 24-hour strike on Thursday next week, claiming the company’s management has declined an invitation to hold an urgent negotiation meeting this week.

The truck drivers say they have been asking the company to include specific guarantees in their enterprise agreement to lessen the impact of outsourcing, but the company has knocked them back.

The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) says StarTrack has been outsourcing work at increasing rates, to as high as 70 per cent at some yards, and the practice is threatening employees’ jobs.

StarTrack is owned by Australia Post.

The vote to strike next week comes after Australia Post delivered more parcels last month than during the Christmas period last year, due to COVID lockdowns across the country.

In the most recent financial year, Australia Post reported a record group revenue of $8.3 billion, up 10.3 per cent, and a profit before tax of $100.7 million.

It returned dividends to the federal government of $46.2 million.

StarTrack was the group’s most profitable arm, with volumes up 12.2 per cent.

Fight over enterprise agreement spreads across industry

StarTrack workers are fighting for their enterprise agreement to include the same pay and conditions for labour hire workers as employees.

They also want the agreement to include caps on the use of outside hire, and a commitment to offer all available hours to StarTrack employees before contracting work out.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said standards were being driven down across major transport operators in Australia as the country reels from “The Amazon Effect.”

He said StarTrack’s management were toying with workers’ livelihoods at the same time as workers were under intense pressure to deliver record volumes of parcels.

“Supply chains are wrung dry by cost cutting by wealthy retailers while operators are forced to compete with exploitative AmazonFlex,” Mr Kaine said.

“This would all be solved by an independent tribunal to set minimum protections for workers.

“For months now, the workers sweating it out in trucks and distribution centres to meet extreme demand have been battling behind the scenes to protect their jobs against an insurgence of outsourcing to lower-paid workers.

“We know the Australian community expects more from government-owned Australia Post than for hardworking peoples’ jobs to be on the line when demand and revenues are through the roof,” he said.

Last week, a ballot closed with 90 per cent endorsement of strike action, giving about 2,000 StarTrack members — roughly 70 per cent of the workforce — protection to strike.

Australian employees can only legally go on strike during enterprise bargaining negotiations if a majority of workers supports industrial action in a vote overseen by the Fair Work Commission.

The 24-hour strike will occur next Thursday.

The TWU says its members will not disrupt medical or vaccine supplies from getting delivered and, just like the recent Toll Strike, provisions will be made on Thursday to ensure the supply of those goods continues.

Last month, around 7,000 trucks drivers at transport giant Toll Group imposed a 24-hour strike after making similar requests for specific guarantees to be included in their enterprise agreement.

What does the company say?

StarTrack spokesperson Michelle Skehan said the company was disappointed with the TWU’s decision to go on strike, particularly when lockdowns were still in place around the country.

“StarTrack has put its best and final pay offer to the TWU, which includes a market-leading guaranteed pay rise of 9 per cent over three years, delivered as 3 per cent compounding each year,” she said.

“This is the best pay offer among our competitors. StarTrack is not proposing any reductions in pay or conditions for its employees.

“StarTrack strongly rejects that job security is under threat.

“In fact, StarTrack’s enterprise agreements, which were negotiated with the TWU in 2017 and 2018, already contain significant job security protections including paying EBA labour rates to labour-hire personnel, paying EBA labour rates to outside hire and independent contractors, and converting casual employees after regular and systematic engagement over a certain period of time.”

Ms Skehan said as part of the current round of negotiations, StarTrack had offered to further strengthen job security provisions by introducing new labour-hire conversion rights, improving casual conversion rights, and improving auditing processes to ensure outside hire suppliers provided EBA rates of pay.

“We have acted and negotiated in good faith throughout this process and we call on the TWU to do the same,” she said.

Thousands of workers in other companies consider striking too

The TWU said job security guarantees were being sought by thousands of workers at numerous major transport operators to defend against the push to compete with business models like AmazonFlex by slashing labour costs and outsourcing work.

A FedEx protected action ballot will close at 5pm on Friday, and ballots at Bevchain and Linfox will close on Monday and Tuesday respectively.

Negotiations are continuing at Toll and Toll Global Express after last month’s 24-hour strike by thousands of truck drivers.

It comes as Australian households continue to experience significant delays to mail delivery times.

Australia Post said it had seen unprecedented volumes of parcels in the lockdown era, and was doing its best to manage the demand. 

It also recently had 500 staff in self-isolation as a result of the COVID-19 outbreaks in the three states.

AusPost executive general manager Gary Starr told ABC Radio Melbourne recently that recent flight restrictions and temporary facility closures had also put pressure on the network.

“It’s been quite an unprecedented period for Australia Post,” Mr Starr said.


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