Aldi, TWU agree to talks in suit over driver safety claims
Employment June 1, 2018 3:26 pm By Cat Fredenburgh | Melbourne

Supermarket chain Aldi and the Transport Workers Union will sit down for talks in a bid to resolve a lawsuit brought by Aldi accusing the union of misleading conduct through press releases and other statements that claimed the company risked driver safety.

The union said Friday it had agreed to hold talks on safety and standards, beginning next week. The case has been deferred for three months pending the negotiations.

Aldi says it has applied to the Federal Court to postpone the case to allow the parties time for further discussion.

The supermarket chain says it sought mediation in order to get more information about the safety breaches alleged by the TWU and hopes the information will be forthcoming. In an April press release, it said the union had failed to provide any information about the alleged breaches, which it called “unsubstantiated” and “wildly inaccurate”.

“Aldi stands by its previous statements denying any issues exist within its transport operations and that it is committed to ensuring the safety of its extended supply chain,” an Aldi Australia spokesperson said Friday.

TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon welcomed the talks.

“We are happy to sit down with Aldi and discuss our concerns. We are hopeful of a fruitful outcome that will benefit drivers and the broader community. We all have a part to play in ensuring a sustainable, safe transport industry. Other major retailers have come on board and are working with us to achieve that end. We would like to see Aldi join the drive for this important goal,” he said.

The parties had verbally agreed to the talks in an April hearing, during which Aldi told the court it had tried to negotiate with its drivers’ union, but that the union refused to sit down for talks.

Aldi’s barrister Garry Hatcher SC, told Federal Court Justice Geoffrey Flick that the chain’s overtures to the TWU had been met only with public statements about the company that risk damaging the business’ brand.

The union has said picketing and other industrial action are the result of low-cost contracts that force the company’s truck drivers to cut safety measures, including breaks and vehicle maintenance.

Representing Aldi, Barrister Garry Hatcher SC, Hatcher told Justice Flick there was a risk of defamation through the union’s industrial actions and Aldi had been prepared to meet with the union earlier.

“Aldi has no desire to have any shadow over the safety of our operations,” he said.

The TWU had previously sent out press releases or insisted on demands that blocked steps towards mediation, Hatcher later told Lawyerly.

Representing the Union, barrister Mark Gibian, told Justice Flick the TWU had a genuine desire to resolve both the legal proceedings and the underlying issues with Aldi over driver pay rates, safety conditions and the use of independent contractors. These issues had been solved with other major retailers, he said.

“Coles and Woolworths have successfully come to arrangements to input supply change,” Gibian said.

Aldi attempted to rein in union action last year, calling on the court for an injunction that would have restrained TWU from picketing at its locations and releasing communications relating to the dispute. Justice Nye Perram dismissed the request in a judgment in August.

The case is Aldi Foods Pty Ltd as General Partner of Aldi Stores (a Ltd Partnership) v Transport Workers Union of Australia & Anor.

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Cat Fredenburgh

Cat Fredenburgh has been covering legal news for 12 years. She was previously Editor-in-Chief at US legal news publication Law360. She is the Co-Founder of Lawyerly.