The Guardian 16 November, 2005

Howard’s redundancy raid

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) is moving to prevent John Howard stripping millions of dollars in entitlements away from 450 Melbourne workers who are to be made redundant by their employer.

"Under John Howard’s new laws these people could lose most of their redundancy payments at a stroke of the company’s pen", AMWU Assistant Victorian Secretary, Steve Dargavel, said.

Silcraft announced last week it would close after 50 years of producing auto components.

"Our priority is to ensure that Silcraft doesn’t use Howard’s new laws to renege on its agreement", said Mr Dargavel.

Workplace legislation which is before the Senate aims to give employers the ability to back out of previously-binding agreements. Once an enterprise agreement reaches its nominal expiry date, the employer may give written notice to end the agreement. For workers who have not signed a new agreement of some sort (collective or individual contract, union or non-union) the fall back position is then a newly stripped and rationalised award containing the barest of minimum conditions.

Under current laws, agreed terms and conditions remain effective until they are superseded by a new enterprise agreement.

The problem for people at Silcraft is that their EBA expires next March but the company won’t shut down operations until July, by which time the Government expects to have the new laws up and running. The first 80 people will be shown the door before Christmas and the remaining 370 will be out of work by mid-2006.

For workers, who have up to 25 years service with the auto components company, that could mean the difference between an $80,000 payout and a maximum of eight weeks at award rates, around $6000. And that is if the award rates have not been reduced by then.

"We are confident we will sort this out because there is good organisation on the job", Mr Dargavel says. "But it is a reminder of one of the ways in which John Howard is trying to rip people off."

The firm says it cannot meet 20 percent "cost downs" demanded by major car companies who, increasingly, are sourcing parts from low-wage Asian countries.

The demise of the Mount Waverley plant follows the recent closures of Autoliv, and Calsonic, at the cost of more than a thousand jobs in the dwindling sector.

The AMWU is urging State and Federal Governments to adopt an industry policy to prevent the "de-industrialisation" of Australia.

"Over the last three years, this country has lost 14,000 jobs from the auto sector, alone, while the Howard Government has sat on its hands", AMWU National Secretary, Doug Cameron said.

"Since the re-election of the Howard Government, last year, 800 full-time manufacturing jobs have been lost every week.

"It is time the Federal Government did something to arrest the disastrous decline.

"The reason for these job losses is that Holden, Ford and Toyota have all awarded supply contracts to foreign countries, including China."

Mr Cameron said Holden receives hundreds of millions of dollars in government grants each year but shows "zero loyalty" to Australian suppliers.

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