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c Freight & Common Carriers - do they care?
c Freight & Common Carriers - do they care?
August 26, 2021

'Track and Trace' or 'Trick or Treat'? Ho Ho Ho
Many companies rely on sub-contracted transport to move goods around Australia and the World for exhibitions and conferences and sometimes with little notice from customers. We have to be able to rely completely on carriers and pay a princely sum for doing so, plus war/security and fuel surcharges (even when fuel is dropping in price).

The reliance on a Transport Company is absolute and we find more and more that this service falls short of expectations.

Two recent experience of ours illustrates this point.

The first:

A picture tells a thousand words ... TNT - we care??  Evidently not.


Note the stickers on every side of the case.  TNT actually put freight stickers over the top of these.

What did they do?  Park a truck on it?

This is actually how TNT Express Australia delivered this 'indestructable' road case. They made our customer sign "Goods delivered in good condition" and did not advise us.  The customer sent us this photo.  Evidently it is our fault because we should consign goods in a container on a pallet!  This of course means more revenue for TNT Express because it means an extra 20 to 30 Kgs of factored weight.  Will they charge us extra because they want us to use pallets?  "Yes sir, of course we will" says TNT.

The second:

Bramshaw ICS uses one of the major air & "we care" road freight suppliers within Australia to move our electronic communications equipment.

At the time we had recently finished a contract in Brisbane after which the goods, packed in 27 road freight cases, had to be split into two lots, one to Melbourne and the other of 6 road cases to Perth.  Pick up Thursday 5 June at 0800 and deliver to Perth by Tuesday 10 June.   As our Carrier, owned by two very large companies iconic Aussie company's, cannot pick up until after 1000 hrs we also arranged a local Courier to pick up the 6 freight cases and hold them for pick up by our Carrier at mid-day.

Too easy?     Wrong!

From past experience we do worry about such things so we called our Carrier the next day to be advised that all was OK — "our consignment is being picked up’. (Translation — ‘it's on our pick up job list’)   This was followed by a call from our Courier the next morning to advise that the consignment still had not been picked up.   Another call to our Carrier — " no worries — we have them being picked up and we will upgrade the freight from "Off peak" to "Next Day". (Translation — ‘no upgrade will be made’).

The 6 boxes were finally picked up one day late and then re-labelled with bar codes for Perth.  Well not exactly as it turned out.  "Our truck drivers cannot be expected to carry bar code labels for all the destinations so the boxes numbered and addressed by us 1 of 6, 2 of 6, etc. were labelled without "PER" but with a bar code for the "Track & Trace" so widely advertised by this Carrier.   The boxes were then loaded onto a conveyor and mixed up with all the freight for the rest of Australia and manually sorted into destinations.  One box was queried as having two destination labels, and even though the bar code would have given the destination, it was sidelined for the next FIVE days. (Translation — "our sorters are not given access to bar codes").

Five boxes were delivered 13 hours late at 2300 in Perth and it was not until then that we found, not the Carrier, that one box was missing.   At this stage we were told that the other box had been found and would be delivered by 0800 the next morning in time for the show.  (Translation - ‘if we have time we are still looking for it in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide & Perth’).

We had at this stage made and received over 50 phone calls to our Carrier. In short the goods were found sidelined in Brisbane and we were told that it was in the air and on the way to Perth. (Translation — ‘it has been found and placed on the loading dock without upgrade to its urgency’).

Yes, you guessed it. We did not send more gear from Melbourne because we were told our gear would get there over night. No it didn’t — it was bumped for more urgent freight and so arrived 14 hours after the first consignment.
Why could not our Carrier use their much vaunted "track and trace"?  Because it "is a manual system and can only tell when the goods have been picked up and when they have been delivered".  Inevitably, when this sort of disaster happens, and this one has the potential to have lost us two long term customers (other times shipping boxes have been) we get the excuse "well we aren’t common carriers so we are not liable for anything".

Legal advice?

We asked William Mulholland of William Mulholland & Co, Lawyers, in Melbourne about this and he advised the following (my summation).
The day of the Common Carrier is long gone. This used to refer to Government owned transport such as railways where the customer had no choice as to which they could use and therefore it was incumbent on the carrier to guarantee the goods against damage. Now that the only Common Carrier left in Australia is probably WA Rail this is irrelevant.
Unlike a common carrier, it is not however an insurer of the safety of the goods.

In a High Court of Australia case which provides authority, (refer Thomas National Transport (Melb) Pty Ltd v. May & Baker (Aust) Pty Ltd (1966) 115CLR353), in short it was ruled that the duty of a private carrier is to take reasonable care for the safety of the goods entrusted to it and to take reasonable care to convey them to their destination and is only liable for such loss or damage as may result from any intentional act on its part or from its failure to take care. If the customer can prove that reasonable care has not been taken it is then up to the Carrier to prove that they have.

Furthermore they must, like all companies, show a duty of care which they cannot contract out of.
The Trade Practices Act (Part IV A) Unconscionable Conduct, also states that the Carrier must give protection above and beyond the Contract. If Carriers Terms & Conditions of Sale are ambiguous and they are contested in Court the Court will resolve the ambiguity against the carrier.

Of course most of this is all very well and we know that due to the diversion from business litigation is usually out of the question but it is good to know that the old line "we are not common carriers" is also out of the question.

There is still a duty of care to protect goods. Destruction of goods shows that they have been negligent therefore the burden of negating negligence will rest upon it. Proof of loss, damage, or non delivery, normally will be prima facie evidence of its negligence.

This last point is very important.

Don't let your essential suppliers pull a fast one on you.

If they damage the goods they are responsible.

Claim your costs and expenses back.

Goods Damage by "Common Carriers"

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