PM Ignored Transport Workers Union Warning on Supply Chains

As Kerryn Phelps said, it’s becoming a story of how not to manage a pandemic. Now, the Transport Workers Union has revealed it warned the prime minister in October that supply chain issues would cause supermarket shortages in the event of a surge in COVID case numbers. The union told the government it needed to make special provisions for COVID testing to keep these essential workers on the road.

Australian supermarkets are seeing shortages of basic products, and not just toilet paper but meat and fresh produce as well. The story has been making headlines internationally.

“The TWU wrote to the Prime Minister in October urging the government to provide rapid tests to road transport workers to avoid unnecessary delays and keep drivers on the road,” said Transport Workers Union National Secretary, Michael Kaine.

“Instead, we have a completely predictable scenario where drivers are delivering rapid tests to be sold on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies — but they, like most Australians, can’t access them themselves.”

Just as in other industries, the shortage of rapid tests is making it impossible for truck drivers exposed to COVID to know whether they need to self-isolate, and whether they’re putting others at risk by coming to work. According to the TWU, between a third and a half of all drivers are currently unable to come to work because of COVID.

It’s not clear if the TWU’s message was ignored due to ignorance or ideology. The warning in October came in the midst of what were ultimately successful strikes led by the union for better pay and conditions.

Over the past decade, an unfortunate perception has been entrenched in elite circles that unions are an impediment to efficient management. During strikes in 2011, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s biggest gripe was workers seeking to make what we considered managerial decisions.

It’s high time for a rethink on this. As the health system crisis shows, workers on the front line often have a better grasp on the situation than the people in charge.

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