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Glass blow

Body-blow: The ACTU says Pilkington faces 120 job losses.

Pilkington had a chance to supply the VE Commodore's windscreens: Holden

General News logo15 Aug 2005

WORKERS from Pilkington Glass rallied outside Holden’s new headquarters in Port Melbourne a little over a week ago in protest over its decision to import windscreens from Thailand, with about 100 workers picketing the new Holden HQ on August 3.

The workers, supported by the union movement, have blamed the loss of the contract on burgeoning free-trade agreements, particularly with Thailand.

GM Holden spokesman Jason Laird said Holden had several months of talks with Pilkington more than 12 months ago to sort out the glass supply situation for the new VE Commodore.

"Given that it’s a new-generation vehicle we wanted to stay at the forefront of the local car industry and obviously be competitive with the imported vehicles, so we required a better-quality glass," he said.

"This required a different technology process, hich required some investment on their (Pilkington’s) part and they indicated to us that they had chosen not to make that investment.

"We continued to have discussions with them and ultimately they chose not to make that investment." Mr Laird said that given that there were no other Australian suppliers with the capability to supply the high-tech glass, Holden was forced to look overseas.

He also said it was not just a decision based on cost alone.

"It was a decision based on quality, technology, price and reliability of service, which is a fairly standard assessment method for any purchasing decision," he said.

Although Holden will not comment, GoAuto understands it will buy its glass from Thailand.

Pilkington had been supplying Holden with glass for more than 70 years.

"They were a long-term supplier and that’s partly why we had lengthy discussions with them," Mr Laird said.

Unions have blamed the free-trade agreement with Thailand for the loss of the contract, which makes it cheaper for Holden to import the glass for the VE Commodore, which is due for release next year.

At its peak, Pilkington is understood to have supplied more than 80,000 windscreens annually for the Commodore.

Thailand’s burgeoning auto component industry is expected to be a major beneficiary of the FTA, a situation that has alarmed both the Australian component industry and unions.

Pilkington also has contracts to supply other Australian auto manufacturers Toyota, Mitsubishi and Ford.

Toyota Australia spokesman Peter Griffin said about 70 per cent of components for the Camry were supplied locally "and our position is to try and keep it that way".

One industry analyst, who did not wish to be named, said it was curious that the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union and the ACTU had taken so long to take up the cause of the beleaguered Pilkington workers.

"It was known long ago that this was happening," he said, suggesting that the current sweeping workplace industrial relations reforms proposed by the Federal Government had prompted some supportive action for the component supply industry.

ACTU secretary Greg Combet told the rally that Holden’s intentions were directly linked to Australia’s free-trade agreement with Thailand and that "now we’re looking at another 120 job losses here".

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