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Toyota sweats on court appeal

Up in the air: Toyota’s Altona car plant in Melbourne is the subject of “great discussion” within the company.

Worker talks on hold pending court appeal as Toyota factory D-Day looms

Toyota logo7 Jan 2014

TOYOTA Australia might have a window of just a few weeks to convince its workers to accept workplace changes designed to save its Altona car factory and its 2900 jobs, and only then provided it can first convince the Federal Court to lift its block on such negotiations.

Toyota's appeal against the December court decision is yet to be scheduled, with the first likely date for the hearing to start in March, but more likely in the second quarter.

With the mid-year deadline looming for a decision on the factory's future by Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), any potential negotiations will need to be telescoped into an intense few weeks.

Because the matter is before the courts, all negotiations between the company and its workers are currently on hold, and might remain that way unless the Federal Court reverses its decision to refuse to allow current workplace conditions to be renegotiated.

This is in line with a court action brought late last year by four senior employees at Altona, incensed that the company wanted to back-track on their agreement.

The Federal Court ruled such “further claims” contravened the Fair Work Act.

Toyota Australia executive director of sales and marketing Tony Cramb said yesterday that the company's Australian manufacturing operations were under unprecedented pressure after the decision by Holden to close its factory doors from the end of 2017.

However, he disputed the contention that it was all over for the factory, saying “the writing is not on the wall”.

Mr Cramb said the future of the plant was still the subject of “great discussion” within Toyota.

“I think it is fair to say that Holden's decision at the end of last year put unprecedented pressure on Toyota and our ability to be the sole manufacturer,” he said.

“But that study is deep underway (in Toyota) as we speak. In order to secure that status (of a manufacturer) we need to earn the next generation of Camry, with export.”

Mr Cramb declined to speculate on whether any future Camry deal would include the V6 Aurion variant.

Mr Cramb said Toyota had been “a little disappointed” with the court action that stymied the renegotiation of the factory agreement in an effort to improve factory efficiencies and productivity.

“But we can only stay focused on what is within our control,” he said. “We have appealed the decision in the Federal Court and I guess, as I understand it, in the second quarter of this year, that appeal will be held.”

Toyota says it needs to reduce the manufacturing cost of each car at Altona by $3800 if it is to win approval from TMC to build and export the next generation of Camry from about 2018.

Last year, Toyota made 106,000 Camrys and V6 Aurions, with about 70 per cent going to export, mainly to the Middle East.

Mr Cramb said Toyota did not want to cut the pay of its factory workers, and indeed planned to deliver two scheduled pay rises this year.

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) chief executive Tony Weber said that as far as he was aware, the federal government had not changed its position on its plans for car industry assistance since the FCAI last discussed it with officials in Canberra last year.

The federal government said before last year’s election that it planned to slice $500 million out of the assistance package to manufacturers, which at that time included both Holden and Toyota.

Last year, sales of Australian-made cars in Australia slipped by 15.5 per cent to 118,510 units, representing just 10.4 per cent of the new-car market – the lowest share since sales figures have been kept.

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