Transport company claims strike will put vaccine supplies at risk

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Australia Post-owned delivery company StarTrack has moved to terminate a planned strike by its workers over job security, claiming it will imperil coronavirus vaccine supplies as the rollout of the Moderna jab begins.

About 2000 employees of the company who are members of the Transport Workers Union have legal protection to go on strike for 24 hours on Thursday as part of a national campaign during pay negotiations to roll back outsourcing and labour hire in the industry.

StarTrack wants the Fair Work Commission to terminate or suspend a strike planned for Thursday.Credit:

But the strike could be cancelled after StarTrack – which has offered employees a 9 per cent pay rise over three years without any reductions to work conditions – applied to the Fair Work Commission to stop it going ahead on the basis it could stop AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines being delivered on time. If the vaccine cartons are out of refrigerators too long or become too hot, they could be spoiled, the company says in its application to the commission.

The union slammed that as an attempt to use the pandemic to stop its workers from protecting their jobs. “Medical supplies and vaccines are, now and always, exempted from strike action,” it said in a statement.

“The TWU has provided an undertaking to StarTrack and requested detail as to which yards and workers are involved in the transport of vaccines and medical supplies to ensure those union members do not participate in the strike.”

StarTrack spokeswoman Michelle Skehan said the union had only notified StarTrack of the exemption on Monday morning, after the company applied to suspend the industrial action on Sunday evening, and questioned how that proposal would work.

“It is an extremely difficult manual process to separately identify and extract [vaccines and medical supplies] once they’ve entered our system,” Ms Skehan said. “Collection of vaccines and medical supplies also require drivers to collect the products and we anticipate drivers may not be available during industrial action.”

If the strike is not cancelled, StarTrack has asked for it to be postponed for four months.

An email seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age shows the union informed StarTrack’s lawyers at Ashurst of the exemption late on Sunday evening, and the union says it was also made clear publicly for weeks that vaccines would not be affected by its industrial action.

Ms Skehan said StarTrack’s enterprise agreement already had a raft of job security protections, including guarantees on pay for external contractors and allowing casual staff doing regular shifts to convert to permanent jobs. That rule takes six months to apply in NSW.

Transport union members are also in the process of bargaining for pay deals at companies including Toll, Linfox and FedEx.

A spokesman for the government’s Operation COVID Shield, which is managing the vaccine rollout, said it was working with transport providers DHL, Linfox and StarTrack to manage any impact but was not expecting any interruptions to vaccine supplies.

“At this point in time, no disruptions are expected to vaccine and consumables deliveries this week.”

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