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Toyota slows Altona output as 350 jobs go

Underway: Toyota has commenced the process of laying off 350 workers from its Altona plant.

Union outrage at Toyota handling of redundancies on eve of Aurion media launch

Toyota logo16 Apr 2012

TOYOTA today slowed its Altona car production line as it began the process of culling 350 workers – more than 10 per cent of the workforce of 3300 – under heavy security in a process that has angered unions and thrown a shadow over the national media launch for the new-generation Aurion tomorrow.

In a process that will take two days, the workers were being taken in buses to a nearby reception centre for processing, including counseling and an invitation to a Toyota-sponsored outplacement “jobs centre” next week.

The sackings began with the first shift this morning, with company representatives moving from shop to shop within the plant to nominate workers who had been hand-picked for compulsory redundancy according to criteria that Toyota said had been negotiated with the union.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union responded that Toyota had been intransigent in the 10 weeks of talks leading up to the deadline that expired last week.

The AMWU labeled Toyota “a disgrace” over its handling of the workforce downsizing, which the company blamed on falling export orders due to the high Australian dollar exchange rate.

 center imageLeft: AMWU vehicle division secretary Ian Jones. Below: Current Aurion.

AMWU vehicle division secretary Ian Jones today denied the company’s claim that the union had requested security guards at the plant during the lay-offs.

“I didn’t even know the security guards were going to be there they didn’t speak with us about that,” he said.

“This company is an absolute disgrace. What union would request security guards? “The company is very short-sighted if they think this is where it finishes.

“We have spent a long time building up relationships which have just been shattered as a consequence of this, both with their workforce and their union.” Mr Jones said union teams used in other redundancy situations were being prevented from entering the factory during the redundancy process.

“This company is even obstructing us having people down there – people that we have used at Ford and General Motors and everywhere else in the industry,” he said.

“Despite having an agreement, they are obstructing them from entering the premises.” Toyota Australia public affairs and communications manager Glenn Campbell said the company and union on Thursday had ended a 10-week negotiation period – required under the terms of the Toyota enterprise bargaining agreement reached last year – and the process had now moved to the next step of informing the redundant workers.

“Starting today, employees who will be made redundant will be informed, and we will be doing that on a shop-by-shop basis from today. It will be completed tomorrow,” he said.

“The employees are aware of the process to be undertaken, so they are aware which day their shop will be informed.” Mr Campbell said the criteria used to assess employees involved a range of factors such as behaviour, skills and knowledge, in a process agreed with the union.

“Supervisors were also assessed on their ability to manage people,” he said.

“Employees were assessed by senior management in their shop, using the agreed selection criteria.” But Mr Jones said the AMWU objected to the process, describing the company as intransigent.

“The company came in with a view that, instead of doing what the automotive industry has done for the past 25 years – allow people the opportunity to nominate for redundancy – they would hand select those people to be made compulsorily redundant,” said Mr Jones.

“The union objected to that all the way along we strenuously object to it today still.

“I think it demonstrates the lie to the phrase that they have in their agreement about treating people with respect and dignity.

“There is no respect, no dignity in the way they are treating people at the moment.” Mr Campbell said the redundancy process – announced in January – had been transparent and detailed.

“The selection criteria is designed to maintain respect for all employees as we go through this process,” said Mr Campbell.

“In the union negotiation process, the union indicated that they would like us to provide additional security.

“The company was happy to support that request, so we do have some security presence over the next two days.

“They are really there to help oversee, and help with transporting employees from different parts of the plant.

“They are not heavy-handed, and it is just part of what we need as we go through this process.” Mr Campbell said the factory was continuing to build cars, including the all-new Aurion that joins the latest locally made Camry in showrooms this week.

“Today we slowed down the speed of our plant because of the reduction in production volumes,” he said.

“We are adjusting the speed at which we produce the cars, so this means we require less staff on the production line.” Mr Campbell declined to reveal the redundancy package for dismissed workers, saying it was confidential under Toyota’s agreement with the union.

Reports today suggest the deal is four weeks’ pay for each year of service.

Although the redundancies were compulsory, Mr Campbell said workers had been invited to nominate themselves.

He said only those workers who fitted the criteria for redundancy would be considered, but those who put their name forward could be successful in getting a package.

According to news.com.au, 88 of the 350 redundancies involved volunteers, with the remaining 262 arbitrarily sacked.

The compulsory redundancies were announced by Toyota Australia president Max Yasuda in January, who at the time said: “Toyota Australia is facing severe operating conditions resulting in unsustainable financial returns due to factors including the strong Australian currency, reduced cost competitiveness and volume decline, especially in export markets.” Mr Yasuda last year warned during an acrimonious pay dispute with workers at the Altona plant that Toyota Australia faced a tough challenge to secure the necessary investment from its parent company to continue its manufacturing operations in Australia.

Toyota car production at Altona, in Melbourne’s western suburbs, has slumped 36 per cent in four years, from 149,000 in 2007, before the global financial crisis, to 94,000 last year. The company forecasts 95,000 units will be made at the plant this year.

Toyota is spending $300 million on refurbishing the engine plant alongside the assembly factory at Altona in readiness to build 2.5-litre four-cylinder engines for the Camry and Camry Hybrid.

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