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GM Holden sues workers over strike

Stalled: A disagreement over payouts to 30 retrenched staff lies at the heart of Holden's dispute.

Holden workers in Port Melbourne walk over payout dispute

Holden logo14 Nov 2013

UPDATED 17:00GM Holden has gone to the Fair Work Commission seeking penalties against workers after they called a sudden two-day strike at the company’s Fishermans Bend engine plant.

Workers are frustrated after negotiations with the company before the Fair Work Commission failed to produce a result in a dispute over redundancy payments to 100 workers leaving the company this Friday.

The strike is unprotected – meaning the Fair Work Commission can apply penalties – as it has been called outside of an official bargaining period.

There is a possibility the trouble could spread to GMH’s Elizabeth assembly operations. Workers there are expected to consider the situation this evening.

The walkout happened after the company and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union failed to reach agreement over redundancy payments to be paid to 30 of the 100 workers set to leave Fishermans Bend this Friday.

GMH received only 70 applications when it made a call in July for 100 voluntary redundancies in Victoria. The company had to choose a further 30 workers for forced retrenchment.

At the same time the company also called for almost 400 voluntary redundancies at Elizabeth in South Australia. There were more than 500 volunteers for those redundancies.

The Fishermans Bend dispute arose after the company revealed that the 30 forced redundancies would attract a payment capped at 52 weeks pay, no matter how long they had worked with the company.

The 70 voluntary redundancies would be covered by the Enterprise Bargaining Award agreement. This stipulates that voluntary redundancies would attract a payout based on the number of years worked with the company, with no cap.

The EBA is not clear on how forced redundancies should be compensated. The parties have been arguing their cases before the Fair Work Commission this week.

A union source said the workers at the Elizabeth assembly plant were considering holding a meeting to discuss the issue.

“Holden and its unions have been in the Fair Work Commission during the past week to resolve differences regarding about 30 planned involuntary redundancies at Holden's Melbourne engine plant and engineering trade operations,” a GMH spokesman said.

“The redundancies are required because a voluntary redundancy program earlier this year failed to achieve the necessary numbers despite a lengthy process.

"It is regrettable that some of our employees have decided to take this industrial action while the matter is being resolved through the Fair Work process."The parties are scheduled to reappear at the Fair Work Commission next week.

The GMH spokesman said the current rate for voluntary redundancy payments was 4 weeks’ pay for every year worked plus 3.5 weeks’ pay.

The union has been asking for that to be raised to 5 weeks pay for every year worked plus 5 weeks’ pay.

He said there was no clause in the current EBA agreement outlining any payment for involuntary redundancy.

The company is believed to have offered to drop the action seeking penalties over the unprotected strike if the workers return to work.

The dispute over redundancy payments for forced separations comes less than three months after GMH employees voted overwhelmingly in support of a three-year wage freeze. They also voted in favor of changes to sick leave, overtime and shift break arrangements.

The latest round of retrenchments and redundancies continues a decade of shrinkage for the company. GMH’s workforce has been more than halved over the last 10 years to around 1700 workers.

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