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Emotions run high as Ford shuts down

Oval and out: Ford Australia production staff farewell 91 years of local car manufacturing with the last Falcon today – a blue XR6.

End of an era as Ford turns the lights off on Australian manufacturing forever today


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7 Oct 2016

THE final Falcon sedan and Territory SUV rolled off Ford’s Broadmeadows production line in Melbourne today, marking the conclusion to 91 years of Australian manufacturing by the Blue Oval and the loss of 600 jobs.

But Ford has also recommitted to maintaining its Australian design and engineering hub, with 160 manufacturing workers already or soon to be redeployed at what the company calls its Broadmeadows-based Asia Pacific Product Development Centre.

At a private ceremony held on the Broadmeadows assembly plant floor to mark the end of local manufacturing today, four Falcon XR6 sedans were given away to departing Ford workers in a raffle.

Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman described the shutdown at both its Melbourne and Geelong facilities as “an emotional day for all of us at Ford”.

“We are saying goodbye to some of our proud and committed manufacturing employees and marking an end to 91 years of manufacturing in Australia,” he said.

“But, as the country’s largest automotive investor and soon employer, we have been able to transfer many employees from our plants to our design, engineering and testing facilities across Victoria.” Opposition leader Bill Shorten took to social media to mark the Ford closedown.

“Sad day today with Ford producing its last car in Australia after nearly 100 years,” Mr Shorten tweeted. “Tough day for many workers and their families.” At the time of publication prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was yet to make a public statement, but federal minister for industry, innovation and science Greg Hunt, tweeted that the government was “committed to supporting workers, families and local businesses”.

Victorian minister for industry and employment Wade Noonan described it as “a very sad and difficult day for workers – many who have spent their entire working lives at Ford”.

“Our thoughts are with them, their families and the many others in Ford’s supply chain who will also be affected by the closure,” he said.

“We are doing all we can to help workers, businesses, and communities through this very difficult period.

“The Andrews Labor government is providing $46.5 million of targeted assistance, including programs and training for auto workers, businesses and local communities hardest hit.

“It is absolutely paramount that all levels of government work together to help workers and businesses during this difficult transition.

“The experience of Ford employees will provide a valuable benchmark for all other workers such as those at Holden, Toyota and supply chain companies as they make a similar transition.” In an opinion piece published in The Age newspaper today, former industry minister and now Labor shadow minister for innovation, industry, science and research Kim Carr said: “The immediate outcome of the Ford shutdown will probably be that which a Flinders University study in 2006 found after the closure of Mitsubishi’s plant in Adelaide two years earlier.

“One third of the workers will find a new job, one third will be underemployed and dependent on casual hiring, and one third will remain jobless.

“But now, without a mining boom, the longer-term outcome is likely to be much worse as the countdown begins to shutdowns by Holden and Toyota at the end of next year.

“Moreover, the retrenched Ford workers will not be able to apply for the same kind of jobs at other car manufacturers, because those jobs are going too.” Senator Carr said that while Ford made its own decision to leave because the high dollar at the time made exports unprofitable, “Holden was goaded into leaving by the Abbott government and Toyota followed suit because without at least two car manufacturers there would not be a big enough domestic supply chain to satisfy demand”.

“Automotive manufacturing has long been the great repository of skills and capabilities in advanced manufacturing in this country,” Senator Carr said. “That is what is now under threat because of the shutdowns.

“Whether these capabilities are lost will depend on whether government and industry pull in the same direction, or the government washes its hands of the problem as Malcolm Turnbull has done so far.

“If we can retain them there is every possibility of attracting new investment to revive the industry, as happened in Britain. If we do not, the grim prospect is that predicted by University of Adelaide research: 200,000 jobs lost across the national supply chain, with a $29 billion hole ripped annually in the economy.

“That is an economic catastrophe the Australian government must avoid at all costs.” Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) vehicle division national secretary Dave Smith laid the blame for Australia’s automotive industry shutdown firmly at “flawed auto industry policies and free trade deals”.

“If you want to know the result of Australia providing the lowest support to the auto industry of any car-making nation, have a look at these great, skilled workers walking out the gate at Ford,” he said.

Addressing media outside the Broadmeadows facility this morning, Mr Smith reiterated that the repercussions would be felt beyond directly employed Ford workers.

“It’s estimated that for every Ford worker there are between four and seven workers in the component and support industries. This is widespread, the focus is on Ford today but for automotive workers it is very significant when you multiply that out.” Mr Smith described Australia’s free-trade agreement with Thailand as “the killer for Ford”, and cited Ford’s unsuccessful Thai export tilt with the Territory as a prime example of one-sided FTA deals due to the large tax impost on the SUV making it an unaffordable in the Thai market.

GoAuto understands that many retrenched Ford workers will receive a generous severance package equivalent to four or five weeks’ pay for every year of service, plus a $3700 bonus for workers who stayed until the very end.

Mr Smith said the average length of service at Ford Australia was 20 years and he praised both Ford’s handling of the shutdown and the enthusiasm with which many employees “embraced” the support programs put in place to maximise their post-Ford employability.

“It’s been a good company – put that on record as I’m not ashamed to say it – we’ve had a good relationship with Ford and they have an excellent relationship with their workforce,” he said.

“They (Ford workers) are very highly skilled, so couple that with the fact they are very loyal and have great work ethics, these are going to make fantastic employees for companies that want to pick them up.” The AMWU pointed to a number of members leaving the Broadmeadows and Geelong factories today.

Among them were: John Angelovksi, “a forklift driver at Ford for 30 years after arriving from Macedonia” Paul Boulos, a worker at the Campbellfield plant for the past 40 years, originally from Lebanon (“Ford was good for me, a good job, good life,” he said) Mick Bee, who leaves the Geelong plant after 34 years (“I’ ve got five kids, the youngest is 10, and this job paid for their education, built a house”) and ‘Stuart’ who, after 37 years’ service, “loses his job today (and) says he will miss his friends and their camaraderie the most”.

While the lights go out and dust gathers on its production lines, Ford Australia will continue growing its local product development division, which has been responsible for highly successful global models such as the Ranger ute and Everest SUV plus the EcoSport compact crossover, Indian-market Figo and Chinese-market Escort.

Meanwhile, the Geelong-based R&D facility will also continue, as will the nearby You Yangs proving ground where future models will be subjected to rigorous tests.

Ford says that by the end of next year, there will be 2000 staff on its Australian payroll.

Mr Whickman pledged that Ford will “remain a major presence in Australia and we will carry forward the legacy of our manufacturing team by continuing to design and engineer world-class vehicles for Australia and the world for many years to come”.

The company has plans for 20 new or refreshed vehicles to be launched in Australia between now and 2020.

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