EXCLUSIVE: AUSTRALIA: Round-the-clock talks to head off more car industry strikes

By just-auto.com editorial team | 14 August 2001

Industrial action in the Australian motor industry may not be over as General Motors' affiliate Holden and auto unions are involved in round-the-clock negotiations to avert the threat of rolling strikes at the car assembly facility in South Australia and engine plant in Victoria, writes Mike Duffy.

A notice of industrial action, served on the car maker by its 7000 workers two weeks ago, takes effect from today (Tuesday).

Unless a new enterprise bargaining agreement is reached, workers can stage random strikes and impose overtime bans.

Workers want pay increases of 24% over the next three years plus redundancy packages of three weeks' pay plus $1000 for every year of service.

A meeting which went into the small hours of yesterday morning (Tuesday morning South Australia time) reached agreement on flexible working arrangement required by the company to match production with demand.

An agreement to set up a joint management-union committee to oversee the implementation of change to workplace practices was taken to Holden's board of directors by negotiators.

A fresh round of talks were proceeding last night (Tuesday) to resolve the pay component of the agreement.

An Australian Manufacturing Workers Union official said: "Ford has given its workers 15% pay increases over the next three years, so we believe Holden, which is more profitable, should be able to do better than that.

"We are well on the way towards reaching a new enterprise bargaining agreement, but the final negotiation on pay could be the difficult part.'"

The official said the union hoped to be in a position to present a report to a meeting of 80 shop stewards on Thursday.

"The consensus of shop stewards will dictate the formal recommendation which will be presented to a mass meeting of workers," he said.

A Holden spokesman rejected suggestions that the strike at New South Wales-based steering column components maker Tristar, which cost the company nine days' production, plus the failure to reach an early resolution to the workplace agreement could prompt General Motors to rescind a decision to build a V6 engine plant in Australia.

She said: "Building work on the engine plant at Port Melbourne is proceeding on schedule.

"There is no suggestion Australia could lose the plant."

The Tristar strike cost Holden 5,150 cars worth $A170 million.

The car maker cannot keep pace with demand for the Commodore - Australia's best selling car - and exports to the Middle East and elsewhere could be held up by further stoppages.

Further industrial action would disrupt efforts to schedule additional shifts at weekends plus overtime to recover some of the lost production.

Holden has recently increased daily production to 580 cars.

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