Assembly lines at GM affiliate Holden are idle today after mass meetings of workers voted to go on strike in support of higher wages, writes Mike Duffy.

It is the second time in a month the nation's No 1 car maker has been hit by stoppages following a nine-day dispute at a company which supplies all four Australian car makers with steering column components.

And it is the first time in a decade that workers have resorted to strike action in support of a dispute.

More than 2,300 day-shift workers voted to stop work until Monday after branding the car company's offer of 15.1 percent pay increases over the next three years as "an insult".

Later in the day, 2,000 afternoon shift workers joined in the stoppage, halting production of the Series II VX Commodore - Australia's best selling car - and the WH Statesman, a car Holden exports to the Middle East with Chevrolet badging.

Holden has successfully applied to the Federal Industrial Relations Commission to hear the dispute at 10am tomorrow (Friday). The car maker will ask the commissioner to order workers to return to work pending a resumption of negotiations next Tuesday.

The company had scheduled an additional shift for Saturday in a move to recover some of the 6,000 cars - worth $A200 million - lost in the stoppage earlier this month.

The in-house strike will cost Holden around 1,500 cars worth more than $A50 million and seriously disrupt deliveries to domestic and export customers.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union called today's mass meetings to report on the state of negotiations for a three year enterprise bargaining agreement.

The union did not ask for strike action but the mood of the day-shift meeting turned angry when state secretary John Camillo informed them of Holden's offer.

The problem was Holden, which made a handsome profit last year, was not offering as much as Ford - which booked a loss in 2000.

Holden's offer of 15.1 percent fell short of Ford's 15.25 percent.

"Workers are embarrassed by Holden's pay offer - and very angry," he said.

"Holden workers believe they have made the company No 1, they have made possible exports to the Middle East and elsewhere and they have made the company big profits.

"Now they feel they have been sold short. They have instructed the unions to take a strong message back to the negotiating table. They want a more appropriate pay offer."

Holden spokesperson Amanda Webb said: "We are very disappointed workers at Elizabeth have decided to strike while negotiations are continuing.
"All major issues have been resolved. The pay increase remains on the table."

On Wednesday, when protracted enterprise bargaining agreement talks turn to pay, the company offered 14.75 percent over three years in response to the unions ambitious claim for 24 percent.

The company increased its offer to 15.1 percent and the union came down to 20 percent.

Holden is looking to boost its annual production to 180,000 vehicles by 2005.

It is planning to introduce a night shift - but only after the EBA has been settled.

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