General Motors Australian affiliate Holden has had to pay its workers a staggering 17.7 percent wage increase over the next three years to settle a long-running dispute, writes Mike Duffy.

For a car assembly worker earning an average weekly wage of $A631 it will mean an additional $A111 over the life of the agreement.

Mass meetings of workers today voted to accept average pay increases which brought to an end a bitter enterprise bargaining dispute highlighted by a three-day strike - the first serious stoppage at the car maker's South Australian plant in a decade.

Settlement in the dispute comes five days after Holden announced it had postponed plans to introduce a third shift until there is global peace in the war against terrorism.

The third shift was part of long-term plans to reach annual production of 180,000 cars by 2008.

The third shift - which would have generated between 400 and 500 new jobs - was scheduled to have been introduced after the Christmas holiday shut-down.

Last week Holden announced that export orders from the Middle East for Chevrolet-badged Commodore and Statesman cars had been cut by 2000 units since September 11.

The company also predicted a drop in the domestic market during the remainder of this year plus an even more dramatic fall throughout 2002 and said production would be "stabilised" at 590 vehicles a day.

All additional shifts and overtime have been cancelled until further notice.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary John Camillo said: "Workers felt that due to market uncertainty it would be prudent to accept what was on offer.

"Even though a third of the workforce thought they should hold out for more money, there was a fear that if the offer was rejected, the company could return to the negotiating table and offer less.''

Workers will receive six percent backdated to the beginning of August, five percent in August 2002, 4.5 percent in 2003 and 1.13 percent in 2004.

Camillo said this totalled 16.63 percent in simple terms which compounded to 17.7 percent over three years.

Workers agreed to the company re-scheduling 10 planned days off as rostered days off to keep production lines working.

Mass meetings of workers at Mitsubishi Motors will meet today to accept pay increases of around 15 percent over the next 33 months. Ford Australia has already agreed to a 15.25 percent increase.

Negotiations with Toyota Australia will begin within the next few weeks and car unions have indicated that they will be seeking at least as much as workers were granted at Holden.