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End in sight for Toyota pay dispute

Camry carrot: Striking workers could earn a bonus by getting production of the new-generation Camry back on track.

Toyota workers set to vote on new pay deal, ending bitter industrial wrangle

Toyota logo17 Oct 2011

THE long-running pay dispute at Toyota Australia’s Altona car factory in Melbourne is likely to end when a deal struck by the company and unions is put to a worker vote in the next two weeks.

Shop stewards negotiating with Toyota representatives at Fair Work Australia last week agreed to an offer of a 13 per cent pay rise over 42 months, prompting the unions to call off a planned strike on Friday that would have further disrupted preparations for the new-generation Camry.

The deal means production of the seventh-generation Camry will start this Thursday without the threat of industrial action, including overtime bans, but launch timing is still up in the air.

Because the factory currently has only a skeleton staff working during a week-long shutdown to gear up for production of the new model, the issue cannot be put to the 3300 employees until after they return on Thursday.

Unions say they will need to explain the package to workers in a series of sectional meetings, so it could be up to a week before the vote and perhaps two weeks before a result is known.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) vehicle division acting national secretary Dave Smith told GoAuto the proposed pay package under the new enterprise bargaining agreement involves a two per cent increase backdated to September 6, 2011, 2.5 per cent from April 2012, 3.25 per cent from April 2013, another 3.25 per cent from April 2014, and the final 2.0 per cent from September 2014.

As well, Toyota has wound back its demand for a reduction of absenteeism to improve productivity, while a separate plan is being negotiated for bonuses for workers once Camry production reaches full speed.

 center imageLeft: Production line at Altona

The new deal was negotiated after the Toyota workers – including those at parts centres in Melbourne and Sydney – rejected an offer of 11 per cent over 36 months in a vote organised by Toyota under the Fair Work Act, with employees sticking to their guns for a 12 per cent raise over 39 months.

The result of the secret ballot was revealed on Monday last week, with Toyota then agreeing to go back to the table at Fair Work Australia to try again with representatives of the AMWU and Communications Electrical Plumbing Union – the two biggest unions representing the Toyota workers.

The fresh deal was thrashed out over three days, with unions – bouyed by the strong showing of solidarity in the worker vote – getting most of what they wanted.

The dispute came to a head in early September after months of negotiations failed to settle on a new EBA. Toyota claimed that each strike day cost the company $10 million in lost sales, meaning it lost $50 million during the dispute.

The company warned the workers that the strike action and pay demands jeopardised the future of the plant by raising costs and reducing competitiveness against other Toyota plants vying for business around the world.

The strikes have already pushed back the start of production for the seventh-generation Camry, which was to have started rolling down the production line this month.

To speed things up, Toyota elected to stand down workers for an “unplanned shutdown” from October 11 to October 19 to prepare for the new model, with assembly line preparations now underway.

The new model was due to go into production in October for a November launch, but there is a chance it will miss that deadline.

However, the proposed bonus on offer to workers is a carrot to get the production schedule back on track as soon as possible.

Production will kick-off with the new-generation Camry armed with an all-new 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that will be imported from Japan until a $300 million refurbishment of the Altona engine factory is completed next year.

The Camry Hybrid will begin coming off the production line in the first quarter of next year, to be followed by the V6 Aurion later in the first half of 2012.

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