ANGRY unionists rallied inside the Sturt Mall on Wednesday to protest against Coles for “sticking their heads in the sand” over demands for improved safety conditions for truckies.
The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) claims the supermarket giant has refused to meet with them and sign a “charter” that would boost rates of pay in the supply chain.
In loud and colourful scenes, the protesters converged on the Baylis Street store to “send a clear message” to management and shoppers.
Members waved flags and carried a banner that read “Coles, pushing safety down the chain”. They chanted “What’s outrageous? Unsafe wages!” to dozens of stunned shoppers.
The rally was one of many staged in major centres between South Australia and Sydney.
Its stopover in Wagga is important because the city is one of Australia’s major transport hubs. The trucking industry is a major employer in Wagga.
TWU assistant secretary Ian Smith said major retailers were putting such a “squeeze” on the industry that ultimately led to cost-cutting and flagging safety standards.
Mr Smith said hundreds of truck-related deaths occurred on Australia’s roads every year.
“It is deplorable,” he said.
“(They) are forcing drivers to skip breaks and speed just to get home to their families and get the job done.
“They need to take their head out of the sand and become part of the solution.”
Mr Smith said Woolworths had agreed to “sit down and actively look at issues”.
“Until companies like Coles take on board and stand with us, we’re going to see the carnage,” he said.
Coles said it was disappointed in the TWU and slammed the union for making “deliberately misleading statements” on road safety.
“It is disappointing that the TWU continues to make a number of deliberately misleading statements about the very important matter of road safety in Australia,” a spokeswoman said.
“Coles does not employ any truck drivers. It contracts the services of market-leading logistics providers such as Toll and Linfox. Like Coles, these companies put enormous effort into safety measures for their employees and employee safety is their priority.”
Coles said it was signatory to a voluntary supply chain code of conduct.
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