Tip Top drivers being ‘worked to death’ as families call for greater responsibility

Dec 6, 2017

ABC 7.30 Report, by Elise Worthington and Alex McDonald, 5 December 2017

Barry Swann returned to Tip Top’s western Sydney depot in April 2009 after a long night delivering bread to stores and supermarkets in the city’s outer suburbs.

He often worked 14-hour shifts, seven days a week, but he still struggled to make ends meet.

He would fall behind with truck repayments and could not afford to pay another driver to do his delivery run.

His family said he had not had more than a couple of days off in three months.

Another Tip Top driver, Tony Parsons, told 7.30 he was present when Swann complained to a Tip Top manager of having chest pains.

Mr Parsons said Swann asked for help with his delivery run but was rebuffed by the manager, who said there was nobody to help him.

After finishing his shift that morning, Swann got into his car and was driving out the gate of the Chullora depot when he suffered a heart attack.

Swann called a friend to pick him up. He had another heart attack in the car and was pronounced dead when they arrived at Bankstown Hospital.

“I still don’t know why he didn’t call an ambulance,” his stepson Sven Morris told 7.30.

Mr Morris also drives trucks for a living and knows how demanding the job can be.

“On numerous occasions I used to, after working my jobs, go out on the run with him,” Mr Morris said.

“He was just knackered.”

 

Signs of a broader problem

7.30 has revealed that several Tip Top delivery drivers in New South Wales were suffering from extreme fatigue and financial stress.

Some warned the pressure of the job could lead to an accident or worse.

7.30 has spoken to other Tip Top delivery drivers who have recently worked up to five months straight without a decent break.

The company said it was not aware of drivers working “without breaks and does not endorse such activity”.

It said as independent contractors, the onus was on them to manage fatigue and employ relief drivers.

Swann’s daughter-in-law, Renee Morris, has no doubt that plenty of delivery drivers are dangerously fatigued.

“Let them have a break,” she said.

“Don’t work them to death.”

‘Surely there was another way they could have done things’

While repeated pay cuts have taken a heavy toll on Tip Top drivers, the company said it was facing “challenging market conditions” and “operational changes” were needed to “ensure Tip Top remains competitive and sustainable in a highly contested industry”.

For delivery drivers such as Ian James, the cuts to his pay rate had a devastating impact.

A Tip Top delivery driver for almost a decade, James was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014.

Vicki James said her husband’s pay packet had already shrunk by more than $1,000 a week before he got sick.

“Tip Top would just say, ‘Well, these are the costs. It’s costing us more, so therefore we have to pass on to the drivers and therefore the wages were decreased’.”

While he was undergoing chemotherapy, James had no choice but to employ a relief driver.

By that point he was no longer making any money from his delivery run.

“He didn’t have anything to survive on and when you’ve got cancer, there’s a lot of bills to pay,” Ms James said.

In May 2015, Tip Top came to Ian James with a new proposal.

According to his wife, Tip Top wanted to almost double the number of outlets he delivered to, something she said, would have made his run longer and ultimately unprofitable.

“They came out to our house to put extra pressure on him,” Ms James said.

“When Ian said, ‘You’re sending me into insolvency, I can’t do this,’ the attitude was, ‘Well, that’s it, sorry. You take it or leave it.’

“Surely there was another way they could have done things.”

Having already had his pay slashed and facing the ongoing costs and stress of chemotherapy, James chose to give up the delivery run.

A month later he was back in hospital and he died in August 2015.

“[Tip Top] sent me flowers the day of his funeral. They were lucky they didn’t get them back because I was so disappointed and disgusted,” Ms James said.

 

‘Look after your drivers’

PHOTO: Ian James in his truck with his niece. (Supplied: Vicki James)

PHOTO: Ian James in his truck with his niece. (Supplied: Vicki James)

“They’ve got to look after their drivers if they want to keep their reputation,” Ms James said.

Since 7.30’s first story early last month, Tip Top has announced it is conducting an internal investigation and says it takes the issues raised seriously.

Mr Morris thinks unless there is major changes, it is likely more delivery drivers will die or go bankrupt.

“It’s as simple as that,” he said.

Tip Top declined 7.30’s requests for an interview and would not answer questions about these cases.

 

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© 2016 Transport Workers' Union of Australia.
Authorised by Tony Sheldon, TWU National Secretary, 388-390 Sussex St, Sydney, NSW 2000 Australia.