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Union slams retail giants over 1st Fleet failure

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Megan Levy and Vince Chadwick

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'Aim is to get them all work'

A company owner drives his bus to the 1st Fleet site, ready to recruit workers still shocked after learning this morning they'd lost their jobs.

PT0M0S 620 349

Major retailers should be blamed for the collapse of transport company 1st Fleet overnight, which has left more than 600 workers across Australia out of a job, according to the Transport Workers Union.

The union's national secretary Tony Sheldon said supermarket giants such as Coles dominated the market and forced down prices across the transport industry, which ‘‘squeezed the life out of Australian truckies and their suppliers’’.

A lot of guys have got wives and kids at home and we’ve all got a mortgage. It isn’t good. 

“The pressures which forced 1st Fleet out of business are the same pressures that exist for trucking companies and suppliers across the country,’’ Mr Sheldon said.

'Devastated' ... Workers outside the 1st Fleet offices in Sunshine arrived to find themselves locked out.

'Devastated' ... Workers outside the 1st Fleet offices in Sunshine arrived to find themselves locked out. Photo: Penny Stephens

‘‘One in three truck movements in Australia are for major retailers such as Coles. This enormous economic power allows retailers to dictate the price they will pay for the transport of their goods.”

However Coles hit back this afternoon, saying 1st Fleet had not worked for the supermarket chain for five years and any suggestion it was responsible for its downfall was ‘‘ridiculous’’.

About 150 employees arrived at 1st Fleet’s Melbourne headquarters in Sunshine this morning for the start of their shifts, only to be handed notices informing them they had been made redundant. An estimated 650 workers look set to lose their jobs Australia-wide.

Handed a termination notice ... 1st Fleet truck driver Paul Dittman was already on the road when he got the bad news.

Handed a termination notice ... 1st Fleet truck driver Paul Dittman was already on the road when he got the bad news. Photo: Penny Stephens

The company was placed in the hands of administrators de Vries Tayeh on Anzac Day, but the administrators announced the 1st Fleet Group of companies would cease trading at 11.55pm last night.
The sudden move came as a shock to the employees, who said they were told as recently as last week that the administrators were optimistic that the companies would continue trading.

Mr Sheldon said the sackings were ‘‘nothing short of a tragedy’’ for the workforce and their families.
“Many owner-drivers with 1st Fleet have been unpaid for more than eight weeks and they now face an uphill struggle to secure what they are owed from creditors,’’ he said.

‘‘Employees with 1st Fleet will be required to wait several weeks until they can secure their entitlements. Since the administration was announced last week, the workforce has been provided with little or no information.”

Bad taste ... Some workers were allowed inside to retrieve their personal effects after being handed termination notices.

Bad taste ... Some workers were allowed inside to retrieve their personal effects after being handed termination notices. Photo: Penny Stephens

He said major retailers were putting a strain on farmers and small businesses across Australia and pocketing the profits.

‘‘It is families and communities who suffer while the big end of town gets richer,’’ he said.

However Jon Church, a spokesman for Coles, said the union was being ‘‘opportunistic’’ was misleading members and their customers by making false allegations.

No job ... The termination notice handed to staff this morning.

No job ... The termination notice handed to staff this morning. Photo: Vince Chadwick

‘‘1st Fleet does not work for Coles and has not done so for more than five years so any suggestion that we are in some way responsible for the sad collapse of the company is ridiculous,’’ Mr Church said.

“Coles works with a number of transport providers large and small. We pay fair rates and we pay on time.

These businesses rely on a strong and successful Coles because that provides them with increased orders, job creation and security and the ability to plan and invest in their future.

1st to know ... The company posted the news on its website.

1st to know ... The company posted the news on its website.

‘‘The TWU should talk to transport companies that work with Coles rather than playing on the fears of vulnerable workers at a company with whom we have no relationship in a bid to boost their membership.”

Recruiters milled at the locked gates of the Sunshine site this morning as workers were told officially that they no longer had a position with the company, which had been in operation since 1988.

The move to collect workers has left a sour taste with some, with one worker describing recruiters as ‘‘vultures’’ picking over a carcass.

Not happy ... 1st Fleet customer Matt Jennings.

Not happy ... 1st Fleet customer Matt Jennings. Photo: Penny Stephens

Robert Coustley, the director of Logical Staffing Solutions, drove a bus to the site this morning in a bid to pick up workers still shell-shocked by the news that the company had gone under.

‘‘We've been going for ten years now and we have never kept up with the demand," Mr Coustley said, adding that he would get all the workers a job.

‘‘It's only a matter of time ... they come to us and we start them off casually and three months later they are permanent.

Vince Sasomazniovski, who has worked at 1st Fleet for 12 years, described the recruiters as ‘‘vultures to the pickings."

He is set to start work at another company shortly but others might not be as lucky.

Recruiter Tony Jewson said "if they're manufacturing jobs it's a bit harder but if it's transport-related there's plenty of work".

Mr Jewson said the sacked workers could be earning $32 an hour at other companies such as Toll and Visy.

Lisa, a mother of two with a mortgage, has been with the company for 20 years. "I had a bit of a tear before but it was more for the boys, not the job," she said.

Cameron Stops from the National Union of Workers said many of 1st Fleet’s former staff faced an uncertain future.

"I suspect a lot of these guys will go from secure, full-time, permanent work and end up working in an insecure job through a labour hire agency somewhere," Mr Stops said.

Matt Jennings, a project manager with Tate Tasman Access Floors, said his company had about $60,000 worth of stock at the Sunshine headquarters alone that his workers were now unable to access.

‘‘At this stage we’re not sure what we’re going to do. We’re just trying to get some answers. We have been given a phone number by the guys on the front gate but it is going straight to voicemail.’’

In a statement this morning, the company said the group's "line of funding was not extended due to the director's inability to meet certain pre-arranged commitments".

"Without this line of funding the business could not continue," the administrators said.

"This is a regrettable outcome but de Vries Tayeh are working closely with the Transport Workers Union to assist 1st Fleet's workforce in being placed with other employment...

‘‘Outcomes from these negotiations will become clearer in a matter of days,’’ the administrators said in a statement.’’

Truck driver Paul Dittman said he was two hours into a trip from Melbourne to Sydney last night when he received a call from a forklift driver in Sydney saying the company had ceased trading just after midnight.

He was told he could either continue driving to Sydney, at which point he would be flown home, or he could turn around and drive back to Melbourne.

‘‘When I arrived back at the depot this morning we were all told to leave immediately.

‘‘A lot of guys have got wives and kids at home and we’ve all got a mortgage. It isn’t good.’’

Mr Dittman, who has worked for the company for 11 years, said workers were told as recently as last week that it was expected to take between six and 10 weeks for the administrators to formulate a plan and everyone was confident the group could continue trading.

‘‘To have this happen overnight, a lot of guys are pretty upset,’’ Mr Dittman said.

He said workers were talking with Transport Workers Union representatives at the Sunshine site this morning, and it was unclear whether they would receive their full entitlements.

The Transport Workers Union said it knew nothing of the terminations until this morning.

On its website, 1st Fleet says it is one of the largest privately owned logistics supply chain providers in Australia. It was established in NSW in 1988.

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130 comments

  • Wages are too high & conditions too generous. It will sink in soon enough as more & more companies go under. Fairwork is a job destroyer. It will be changed but probably when it is too late for 100000's of workers. They can blame everyone & anyone but the fact remains that the unions have priced workers out of jobs. The boom is over and we have no way of lowering costs other than slashing jobs or going bust. Great system we have. Fancy having no job in this high cost of living world we live in.

    Commenter
    Brisbane Bear
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    May 03, 2012, 8:07AM
    • Mr Rabbott says non unionised workers earn MORE than union workers. So which is it? They are being paid too much or too little. In fact, these workers are paid a pittance and are asked to work all hours to receive it. It's a pity they don't belong the doctors' union or the lawyers' union or the best of all, the CEO's union, which sits around at lunch all day deciding how jobs should go in order to achieve their next million dollar bonus.

      Commenter
      Paul
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:20AM
    • Oh whatever! If these company directed had half a brain about them these companies wouldn't be getting in these messes all the time. But no, we nave lay the blame at the feet of those actually responsible, all the blame and all the hardship goes to the workers who have little say in the overall running of a company. The directors however continue on their merry way, probably happily sitting on the boards of other companies, still getting their director fee's.

      How about we put in place some *real* punishment for these people responsible. How about if a company that you are a director of go into administration you're banned from directing another company. This might cause these directors to actually take some thought and care into the work they're doing. Hopefully it will clear out all the hopeless ones in the process.

      Commenter
      Cameron
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:22AM
    • Once again, Brisbane Bear is moaning about allegedly "too high wages". The following table from the Australian National Accounts (5206.0) shows that the profit share of national income has been increasing at the expense of the wages share for 30 years:

      % Wages Profit
      1981 58.6 19.5
      1991 56.5 21.2
      2001 56.3 23.6
      2011 53.1 28.1

      The employers have been extracting ever-larger proportions of surplus value from our labour and keeping it for themselves. To have some dogmatist putting up unsupported arguments about wages being "too high" is, therefore, totally offensive.

      The real reason for the failure of this business is therefore likely to be found elsewhere. Interest rates, the high dollar, the price of oil, or perhaps just plain business incompetence. What is clear, though, is that capitalists, shielded by limited liability laws, risk only their specific investment, the workers risk everything on the success of their employer. As usual, the those who have the most to gain have the least to lose - and vice versa.

      But that's capitalism for you.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:25AM
    • That's very sympathetic of you. And how much do you get paid, I wonder? Instead of attacking the Unions, who weren't even mentioned in this article, maybe you could donate part of your wage to helping people who find themselves without a job when they've done nothing wrong.

      Commenter
      cygirl
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:33AM
    • It amazes me that some people have this bizarre kneejerk reaction of "how dare people earn a good wage - pay 'em a pittance! Third world wages for all!"

      I wonder how overpaid you are, Brisbane Bear? Going to voluntarily take a cut, or are you just all talk?

      Commenter
      Spread the Wealth
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:36AM
    • So it is all about wages and conditions..Nothing to do with..I don't know..Rents, Leases, Other companies driving the costs down of transport so low it barely makes a profit, Maintenance of the fleet, MB business practices..Yep the simple solution is either blame unions or blame the workers for asking for a decient wage, decient equipment..you know these big big trucks are on the road and all it will take is loose wheel nuts or bald tyres, or airbrakes failing in trailers, or removing speed limiters for example to destroy peoples lives..nothing to do with other companies screwing them down to the bare minimum..ther is more to this than a simple comment..it is wages and conditions...Mb you should open a business in Nigeria..they have the conditions and wages you are requesting to be thrust upon the Australian workforce...Bye.

      Commenter
      So it is
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:39AM
    • With house prices so high, you have to get a higher wage, whether you have a mortgage or rent. But no political party will kill off negative gearing... so we're kinda screwed.

      Commenter
      vacri
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:39AM
    • Unions causing truck drivers wages to be too high? You have to be smoking something good to believe that.
      For years truck drivers have worked incredibly long hours for paltry wages. Unions could do nothing about it whilst the supply of drivers exceeded demand.
      Now our rich friends in the resources industry are willing to pay top dollar for workers to get the iron ore and coal out of the country. That is what has finally helped get truck drivers wages up, not due to unions.

      Commenter
      Toot
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:40AM
    • So you have access to the books?

      You know what each and every employee gets paid?

      You know for certain the CEO and board where capable and never made any mistake which impacted heavly on the company?

      The talked to all of the companies clients and they showed you proof all where responsible and paid on time and never defaulted?

      The union here is not to blame. We dont know what happened. What we do know has happened is 600 people have lost there jobs.

      Commenter
      Ange
      Date and time
      May 03, 2012, 8:41AM

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