Australia's industry minister Nick Minchin has clashed with auto unions over the strike which has idled General Motors' South Australian Holden car assembly plant, writes Mike Duffy.

Senator Minchin said the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union "must not be allowed to destroy Australia's hard-won reputation for reliability or the jobs of car industry workers".

The minister launched his attack on unionists at a special dockside ceremony at Port Adelaide, staged to mark the first shipment of the locally-made Mitsubishi Magna to the Middle East.

"The future of the Australian car industry is heavily reliant on export success," he said. "The last thing we need is the AMWU's campaign of industrial disruption to destroy the jobs of the workers making world class cars."

The attack generated an angry response from the secretary of the vehicle division of the AMWU, Tom Taylor.

Taylor criticised Minchin for using a "good news" Mitsubishi function as a platform to "union bash".

"All we are trying to do is to negotiate a decent wages outcome for our members," he told the minister.

He said it was not a union initiative to call for industrial action but a decision of rank and file members.

"I believe it was quite inappropriate for you to use Mitsubishi's day to union bash."

Meanwhile, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, sitting in Melbourne, recommended that workers at Holden's Elizabeth plant return to work pending negotiations to continue.

Workers walked off the job on Thursday after hearing Holden was offering 15.1 percent over three years after the union had asked for 20 percent.

They will return to work on Monday while negotiations to settle the enterprise bargaining agreement start in Adelaide on Tuesday.

The commission was told the strike would cost Holden $A40 million in lost production.

Holden director of employee environment, Andria Wyman, said strike action by employees at the company's car assembly plant would have a flow-on effect on its Victorian engine operations.

Holden said 150 V6 Melbourne engine assembly employees had elected to take a day's holiday on Monday as an alternative to being stood down because engine production is ahead of vehicle assembly.

The company had scheduled a half shift to recover some of the 5,000 cars worth $A180 million lost in the nine-day stoppage caused by the strike at a steering column components manufacturer which paralysed Ford and Mitsubishi as well as Holden.

Holden released its revised Series II Commodore and Statesman range this week and is already struggling to satisfy demand for some models.

The two-door Monaro Coupe version of the Commodore is going into production and the company will be far from happy about production losses resulting from two stoppages within a month.

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