The Guardian September 12, 2001


Anger and frustration build at Holden

by Bob Briton

Workers at Holden's Elizabeth assembly plant in Adelaide are at the limits 
of their patience with the corporation's unwillingness to agree upon a 
satisfactory pay deal and acceptable conditions as part of a new Enterprise 
Bargaining Agreement.

Over 4000 Adelaide workers from the day and afternoon shifts walked off the 
job a fortnight ago in response to the latest offer of a 15.1 percent pay 
increase over three years.

This most recent offer from the company follows on previous ones of 14.75 
per cent over three years, then another one of 14.75 per cent with some 
fiddling of the other detail of the EBA, followed by another offer of 14.9 
per cent.

It was the last miniscule movement in the increase on offer that blew the 
lid off workers' anger and caused the walkout, which arose from motions 
from the floor—not from recommendations from union officials.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union's (AMWU) ambit claim, which was 
agreed to at a National Conference as part of an Australia-wide campaign, 
was for a pay increase of 24 per cent over three years. Negotiating teams 
of union officials and senior shop stewards led by the AMWU had already 
lowered their claim to 20 per cent then, at meetings held in Melbourne just 
prior to the walkout, said that a 17.5 per cent increase was the union's 
minimum position on pay.

As can be seen, Holden's offers were not a serious attempt at reaching an 
agreement and its attitude on other issues has also heightened tensions. 
Workers are incensed that Holden is holding to its hard-line postion 
despite profits of $280 million last year, extracted from the efforts of 
workers. 

AMWU State Secretary in SA, John Camillo, told The Guardian that the 
auto maker is also intent on increasing production from 125,000 units a 
year to 185,000 units as a part of its profits drive. To achieve this 
Holden wants to increase the "flexibility" of its operations and is 
pushing, for example, for programmed days off involving the whole plant to 
become RDOs for individual workers. 

Workers don't appear to be in the mood to oblige in view of how their 
previous cooperation has been taken for granted and pocketed.

Last July, for example, workers agreed to bring forward some of their 
annual leave because of a slump in exports to the Middle East. Orders for 
vehicles had been delayed because of religious observances in some Middle 
East markets. It appears that you can never be flexible enough for some 
employers.

At the stopwork meetings which led up to the strike, workers pointed out 
that even troubled manufacturer Mitsubishi was able to offer 14.75 per cent 
to their workers despite losses to the manufacturer's Australian division 
of $166 million last year.

In response to Holden's constant line about tight margins and the like, 
some workers suggested that the transnational should take a leaf out of 
Ford's book. That company has suspended bonuses going to executives from 
International President Jack Nasser down.

Last week Holden contacted the AMWU and said that its previous offer was 
not the company's bottom line and that it was prepared to offer 15.5 per 
cent (16.3% for the remainder of the Period of the EBA). The negotiating 
team rejected the offer but it was put to workplace meetings in Adelaide 
last Friday. The offer was rejected and it seems likely that it will be 
rejected by workers at the engine building plant at Fisherman's Bend in 
Victoria.

In another development the so-called "impartial umpire", the Industrial 
Relations Commission, has declared any further strike action in support of 
Manusafe (the industry-wide employee entitlement trust fund) to be illegal.

Back to index page