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‘Bad, different’: Union steps up Aldi fight

Union workers with the TWU protest Aldi. Picture: Supplied
Union workers with the TWU protest Aldi. Picture: Supplied

The Transport Workers’ Union has supermarket giant Aldi in its sights, with the union set to kick off a months-long campaign to pressure the retailer to negotiate a national agreement for transport employees.

The TWU also wants Aldi to sign on to a charter ensuring “minimum standards” across Australia’s supermarket supply chain.

In a speech to the TWU national meeting in Western Australia on Tuesday, national secretary Michael Kaine will come out swinging against the German upstart challenger to Coles and Woolworths, claiming it puts workers in unsafe conditions and serves as an “anomaly” in the retail sector.

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“Coles and Woolworths have charters with the TWU on safety standards,” he said.

“Coles and Woolworths joined a federal government industry roundtable, standing with transport employers, owner driver associations and workers to call for enforceable standards in transport.

“Legislation which will soon become law.

“But Aldi has stayed in the shadows, refusing to acknowledge the deadly pressures in the industry.

“Enough is enough. We will draw Aldi out of its state of denial because transport safety is Aldi’s responsibility and we won’t let it go ignored.”

HUNGRY PANDA RIDERS PROTEST
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine is escalating up the union’s pressure on Aldi. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

Under the charter, representatives from Coles, Woolworths and the TWU meet formally to discuss employment and safety conditions in the sector’s supply chain.

Alongside the charter, the TWU also wants the company to negotiate an agreement for its transport employees.

Aldi contracts work out to transportation operators, the union said, in addition to hiring its own transport workers.

“We are demanding a national road transport enterprise agreement, so that employees have a genuine say over their pay, conditions and safety at work,” Mr Kaine said.

“So that the nuances and the dangers of working in transport are accounted for.”

Union anger with the discount retailer has been bubbling for years.

In 2023, SafeWork NSW issued Aldi with a set of “improvement notices” for one of its NSW stores.

Mr Kaine said the notices from the safety inspector “reflected concerns” raised by employees across the country.

“We’ve heard numerous safety concerns that have long gone ignored,” he said.

“Things like workers forced to load and unload trucks on their own at night, in the dark. Some inadequately trained for the task.

“Risks of crushing incidents from poorly stacked pallets – one of the many improvement notices recently issued by SafeWork NSW at an Aldi store.

“Fire hazards. Fall from height risks. Poor traffic management. Faulty equipment.”

EDITORIAL GENERICS
Aldi is a discount supermarket chain with thousands of stores across the world. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper

An Aldi spokeswoman, responding to the TWU, said the company had its own charter in place to protect workers in its supply chain.

“Aldi recognises our role as a key player in the transport industry and we take proactive measures to ensure that our commitment to driver safety is consistently maintained,” the spokeswoman said.

“Aldi has a Safety and Corporate Responsibility Charter in place to build responsible and strong compliance practices by our employees, suppliers and contractors.

“It outlines our expectations to comply with all applicable transport laws and our high safety and labour standards and all participants in the supply chain are audited against this charter annually.”

Aldi’s charter states its stores will not place “demands or expectations on our suppliers that will encourage, reward or incentivise suppliers to breach the law.”

“Aldi stores ensure that our rosters, schedules and practices will not require or encourage drivers to exceed the speed limits, drive while impaired by fatigue, exceed regulated driving hours, exceed mass or dimension limits, inappropriately restrain loads, not carry accurate container weight declarations when transporting containers, fail the minimum standards or test requirements, including maintenance programs and schedules, ensuring vehicles are free of defects, mechanically safe and in proper working order or operate equipment or machinery that is not roadworthy.”

Australia’s third biggest supermarket retailer Aldi has fronted a Senate Inquiry on Thursday into supermarket pricing, says Sky News business editor Ross Greenwood. He says it comes “hot on the heels of Craig Emerson’s interim report” into supermarkets. “

Aldi also said it had tried on “numerous occasions” to engage with the union, but had been rebuffed.

“We have tried on numerous occasions to have productive conversations with the TWU about this Charter and have repeatedly sought details about the safety allegations they have made,” the spokeswoman said.

“The TWU has refused to engage with Aldi.

“Road transport safety is, and has always been, central to our transport operations.”

Mr Kaine warned the union would “pursue Aldi relentlessly” if it did not meet the union’s demands.

“We are giving Aldi one more chance to come to the table and talk to us about safe, fair, sustainable standards for every transport worker in its supply chain,” he said.

“One more chance to be ‘good’ and ‘different’, different to its old irresponsible ways.

“We will pursue Aldi relentlessly. We don’t let bad actors off the hook.”

After the speech, union workers will stage a protest at the company’s Fremantle store on Thursday, with protest action then expected to broaden out across the country.