— industry experts offer their opinions*
A large transport company is seeking to import foreign workers while Australia’s unemployment rate continues to rise.
SOME EMPLOYERS and their associations will stop at nothing in the drive to lower wages and rates across the industry. They are gaming the system and ultimately their moves don’t just affect the take-home pay of drivers, they also affect safety and even shut out locals from jobs.
Transport operator Northline recently applied to the Department of Immigration for a labour agreement to import forklift drivers. This is the third such labour agreement the company has sought.
Drivers can’t be brought in from overseas on skilled migration visas such as the 457 visa system. So instead employers have to apply for labour agreements as Northline has done. This system is clearly flawed.
Northline stated in its application to the department that it was seeking to bring in 60 forklift drivers over three years as “skilled overseas workers”.
But it admits in the same application that these workers will be trained “once in Australia”.
It is ridiculous for companies to import forklift drivers into Australia. Training for the jobs can take just two days. Unemployment and underemployment are on the rise: in parts of Queensland, youth unemployment is more than 28 per cent, in parts of NSW it is over 20 per cent. Why can’t Northline source drivers from these areas?
The company did not even try to properly advertise to hire the local workforce. Prior to their application to the department, Northline put just one advert online for “casual” positions in Brisbane. When we queried their lack of attempts to hire drivers locally, two more adverts suddenly went up online – but again for “casual” positions. The company refused to answer any questions we had about the rates and conditions for these jobs.
Northline’s business model is to keep wages low and to outsource work. It has no enterprise agreements with workers. It was found during an audit at a distribution centre by the Transport Workers Union of serious breaches of fatigue rules. One truck driver had worked for 11.5 hours without a break; another worked for 12.5 hours and had only taken a 30-minute break. Records were also found to be poorly maintained.
This attempt to import transport workers doesn’t just affect forklift drivers or Northline – which is why their move must be exposed and challenged. A company which seeks to undercut rates by importing overseas workers to exploit them will undermine rates for other workers it employs and rates for wages in companies it competes with.
This issue is definitely not about migrant workers. They are not ‘stealing’ jobs. Rather these jobs are being given away by companies like Northline in an effort to push down rates and wages.
Exploitation of overseas workers goes hand in hand with moves by industry to reduce wages and allowances in a review of the award system and opposition to minimum fair rates for owner- drivers.
It is all about reducing rates across the industry.
These transport operators are on a crusade to lower rates because wealthy retailers and manufacturers are continually cutting transport contracts, piling financial pressure on transport companies and drivers. It is happening because the likes of NatRoad and the Australian Trucking Association do not have the courage to defend the industry and stand up to clients.
We call on NatRoad to stop its demands to reduce rates for employees and end their opposition to fair rates for owner- drivers, which the Federal Government has backed them on.
The Transport Workers Union is calling for fair rates across the industry to stop the race to the bottom in transport.
We also want to see greater rights for migrant workers and training to ensure they understand their rights and have access to union representation.
We have been also been seeking, for some time, industry-wide training to be carried out under the auspices of national auditing, education and industrial rights.
There is much to be proud of about our road transport industry. Right across it drivers are standing up for fairness and decent standards, from armoured cars, buses, owner-drivers and even bicycle couriers.
Employment minister Michaelia Cash last April called for the nation’s truck drivers to down tools and “get your trucks out and, if you have to, do a convoy to Canberra” as part of her campaign against minimum fair rates for owner- drivers. Not too many heeded her call. In contrast, more than 800 truck drivers and their families protested against Government moves against drivers in the week before the federal election.
Truck drivers are again standing up against unfair laws and challenging them. They are standing up against the push to lower rates and standards in our industry. They are standing up against exploitation of overseas workers. They are standing up for our industry’s future.
“ONE TRUCK DRIVER HAD WORKED FOR 11.5 HOURS WITHOUT A BREAK”
WITH TWU NATIONAL SECRETARY TONY SHELDON