Worn out, angry StarTrack drivers, distribution centre workers fear outsourcing job losses

Rebecca Le MayNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: Supplied

Just as Australia’s package delivery network buckles under the strain of an unprecedented online shopping boom, workers at StarTrack have vowed to walk off the job next week.

The Transport Workers Union says drivers and distribution centre workers are angry the Australia Post-owned company has refused to provide specific job security guarantees, claiming there has been a ramping up in outsourcing work to rates as high as 70 per cent at some StarTrack yards.

“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,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said.

The TWU says calls for an urgent negotiation meeting this week were knocked back, despite a ballot last week closing with a 90 per cent endorsement of going on strike.

That gave about 2000 StarTrack union members – roughly 70 per cent of the workforce – protection to walk off the job.

They now plan to do just that for 24 hours on Thursday.

StarTrack delivery drivers are run off their feet and now feel their jobs are being threatened by outsourcing. Supplied/StarTrack
Camera IconStarTrack delivery drivers are run off their feet and now feel their jobs are being threatened by outsourcing. Supplied/StarTrack Credit: Supplied

StarTrack said a meeting was now planned for Wednesday and rejected the union’s claim the planned action was overwhelmingly backed by workers, saying only one-third of the company’s workforce voted to support it.

“StarTrack strongly rejects that job security is under threat,” spokeswoman Michelle Skehan said.

“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.

“As part of the current round of negotiations, StarTrack has offered to further enhance job security protections including introducing new labour-hire conversion rights, enhancing casual conversion rights, and improving auditing processes to ensure outside hire suppliers are providing EBA rates of pay.”

Camera IconThe TWU says cost-cutting by Amazon is driving down standards in the parcel delivery sector. Supplied Amazon/Steve Pohlner Credit: Supplied

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

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

Ms Skehan said contingencies were in place, including the reallocation of resources, to ensure that any delivery impact from strike action was minimised.

“We are disappointed that the TWU is doing this at a time when the delivery of essential items has never been more important, particularly those in vulnerable regional communities requiring essential supplies such as medicines, protective equipment and vaccines,” she said.

However, the union said it had never - and never would - disrupt medical or vaccine supplies through strike action

Supplied Editorial Fwd: Australia Post invests in new Adelaide parcel facility -
 EMBARGOED until 5 July 2020
Camera IconThe parcel delivery network is under intense strain due to the pandemic-triggered online shopping boom. Supplied by Australia Post. Credit: Supplied

Meanwhile, Mr Kaine took a swipe at online retail colossus Amazon, saying Australia was facing the double-edged sword of ‘The Amazon Effect’ thanks to government inaction, with jobs and standards being driven down across the major transport operators.

“Supply chains are wrung dry by cost cutting by wealthy retailers while operators are forced to compete with exploitative Amazon Flex,” he said.

But an Amazon Australia spokeswoman said Amazon Flex delivery partners only serviced the last mile for the company’s orders to its own customers.

“Amazon Flex is designed to be a flexible, supplementary earning opportunity for everyday Australians, providing them with a way to earn extra money in their spare time in an easy, accessible and reliable way,” she said.

“People who have been stood down or had reduced hours as a result of the pandemic have used Amazon Flex to earn extra money while they waited for their primary job to pick back up, and we expect some people to use it as an opportunity for extra cash as we head into Christmas.

“On average drivers earn $120 for a four hour block.”

Online shoppers are being urged to plan their Christmas early as the postal and courier network braces for a record festive season, with big delays and disruptions expected.

Earlier this month, Australia Post had to suspend parcel collection from retailers for three days due to a chronic staff shortage amid widespread Covid-19 lockdowns.

The TWU says a FedEx protected action ballot closed at 5pm AEST on Friday, while ballots at Bevchain and Linfox close on Monday and Tuesday respectively.

It says negotiations continue at Allegro-owned Toll and Toll Global Express following a 24-hour strike by thousands of workers last month.

Originally published as Worn out, angry StarTrack drivers, distribution centre workers fear outsourcing job losses

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