Poor Safety – Taking its TOLL
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By Marcus H.
A recent death on the Melbourne waterfront was the latest fatality in the stevedoring industry in Australia, and the latest safety issue on a workplace controlled by Toll Holdings.
Statistically, waterside workers are more likely to be killed on the job than any other Australian worker.
Anthony Attard, a father of three and a delegate of the Maritime Union of Australia, was crushed to death on May 20, when in the process of loading cargo onto a ship docked at the Port of Melbourne; the forty-two year old was crushed by a trailer.
At the time of the fatality, a National Stevedoring Code of Practice was in the process of being drafted through a tripartisan body consisting of regulators, stevedoring companies and the Maritime Union of Australia.
Just one week after Mr. Attard was tragically killed, Michael Kilgariff, General Manager of the Australian Logistics Council, of which Toll Holdings is a member, condemned the code, “We would prefer the stevedoring code of practice not go ahead at all.”
The death of the unionist, who MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin described as “a family man and comrade to all” represented his colleagues on the Enterprise Bargaining committee, was the third death in the stevedoring industry this year.
With his members coming to terms with yet another needless, and preventable fatality, Crumlin, also the President of the International Transport Federation, said "The MUA has long campaigned for better safety and now demands that this crisis in waterfront safety be addressed by regulation, safety must be mandatory and it must be law”
Safety must be law; you’re killing us no more!
On June 18, MUA members from around Australia, descended on the Toll Groups headquarters to demand safety on the waterfront, occupying the head office, the members sent a clear message to the executives; “Safety must be law, you’re killing us no more!”
Chris Cain, State Secretary of the Western Australian branch of the MUA said “Anthony Attard’s death has again highlighted the need for a national code of practice” Cain added “our members have a right to go home safely”
According to Bobby Patchett, assistant secretary of the Victorian Branch, a Toll manager briefed the deceased man’s workmates, stating; “this death is no different to a pedestrian fatality, we have got to move on.” Patchett said this disrespectful statement equated to ‘we have got to move forward with business and unload this ship’
In a similar incident in November 2004, a driver was run over by a prime mover at a truck depot. In 2009, Toll was fined $220,000 for breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 for failing to ensure the premises were safe and without risks to health.
Bullying uncovered in Melbourne
At the Toll Distribution Centre in Somerton, located in the solid working class northern suburbs of Melbourne, bullying and intimidation tactics handed down by Toll management was revealed in a recent survey conducted by the sites Occupational Health and Safety Representatives.
The workers at the Somerton Distribution Centre, members of the National Union of Workers, provide their labour to service the Coles supermarket stores across the state of Victoria. In June 2012, the NUW members at Somerton waged a heroic two week long strike, fighting for justice with other Coles Distribution Centre’s around Australia.
Earlier this year, in February, the workplace Union Delegates took up another fight, this time in defence of casual workers at the Coles shed. Toll management, in a pathetic example of human relations, sent a threatening text message to these casual workers.
Abruptly, the text read; “We require you to work. If you are unavailable to work, you will need to speak with HR and explain your circumstances. Pls reply YES. If you are unavailable, pls reply NO AND THE REASON, and contact will be arranged with HR. Pls DO NOT ignore this text. Texts ignored will result in no further shifts being sent ’
In this current period of the casualisation crisis, in which 40% of Australian workers are placed in insecure, precarious employment, the National Union of Workers are leading the fightback against casualisation, ensuring dignity, respect and permanent, secure jobs are reinstated into workplaces.
In early May results from a survey relating to the treatment of Toll Somerton workers were handed down. The Toll Somerton OHS Survey was conducted by the site Safety Representatives and workers had the opportunity to voice their concern regarding bullying and harassment perpetrated by Toll management.
73% of those surveyed responded by saying they had experienced harassment or bullying while performing their warehouse duties. 72% of respondents felt they had been pressured into meeting pick rate targets. Most workers surveyed stated that humiliation was the predominant form in which the bullying had prevailed.
Container rates, not hourly rate
Just a few container lengths from the Toll shipping yard in which Mr. Attard was killed, Toll operates a warehouse, in which it is understood a majority of workers are placed through a third party labour hire provider.
Reportedly, these casualised workers are believed to not receive an hourly rate, but are paid on a rate per unloaded container. One worker said that this was creating an unsafe workplace, and one that created an individualised environment.
The casual worker said “we don’t receive an hourly rate; we are paid by how many containers we unload in a day. This causes workers to take short cuts, and work unsafely, just so they can get a shift the next day”
In 2012, the union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters produced a report Toll Group: An Inside Look at Toll’s Exploitation of Workers in the U.S. The Teamsters investigated low wages and poor working conditions inside Toll facilities in the United States.
At one site in California, it was discovered Toll had provided only dirty portable toilets for workers to use as bathrooms, did not provide potable water, and did not provide sheltered areas for workers to take breaks or to eat their meals.
Workers at the Somerton site said often times management would come onto the warehouse floor in groups of two and three to question and intimidate workers who they had considered had not met their ‘pick rate’. As the workers point out, the Enterprise Agreement, negotiated between the employer and the employees does not provide for ‘pick rates’, nor did the company seek this in the latest round of negotiations.
Visitors to the Toll shed are confronted by the Toll Holdings mission statement in relation to safety, which states; "Embedded in our Toll values is the belief that all injuries are preventable and everyone has the right to go home safely".
Anthony Attard should have had that same basic right; every worker does have the right to go home safely and in the same condition they started work that day.
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