The Guardian 25 April, 2007

Workers occupy factory

Forty-nine workers at Coghlan and Russell Engineering began an occupation of their workplace on April 12 after they were stood down without pay and with no assurances about their entitlements. Last week negotiations were being held between the companyís Administrator PBB, and representatives from the unions and carmakers affected.

The Geelong-based company has gone into administration and cannot guarantee the workers the $1.5 million that they are owed.

The failure of the company is linked to the downturn in six-cylinder vehicle sales from Ford and Holden, both companies announced redundancies earlier this year. Ford last week threatened to shut down its Victorian production lines and lay off more than 3,000 workers unless an agreement could be reached for work to resume.

Coghlan & Russell Engineering is in severe debt after a contract dispute with Ford.

AMWU Acting Victorian Secretary, Steve Dargavel, said that once again workers were bearing the brunt of the federal governmentís poor industry policies.

"There is no money to pay the entitlements of these workers and their only recourse has been to occupy the site to try and protect assets that could be used to secure what they are owed.

"Under John Howardís entitlement scheme GEERS, these workers are ineligible.

"Yet again workers are wearing the pain of industry and federal government inaction. Itís time the federal government instituted a proper entitlement scheme."

Mr Dargavel said the employees wanted $1.8 million in entitlements guaranteed.

"Many of these guys have been salary-sacrificing superannuation, which was never paid into their superannuation accounts", he said.

Dargavel also called on the Labor Party to take policies to the election that would see workers protected from company failure.

"Itís a challenge for the major parties to put forward a proper entitlement scheme that protects workers from this situation, where they work for decades only to be thrown on the scrap heap without what is owed to them."

"We also need better industry policies to support Australian jobs. The federal government hands out industry assistance to big car companies, but it does not require sufficient Australian content in cars to ensure jobs are kept in Australia", he said.

The crisis at Coghlan and Russell is part of a trend as the popularity of locally made six-cylinder cars declines in favour of small cars imported from Korea, Japan and elsewhere. Ajax Engineered Fasteners went into liquidation last year, owing workers an estimated $12 million in entitlements.

Late last year Holden cut 200 jobs at its Port Melbourne plant and Ford shed 640 jobs at its Broadmeadows and Geelong plants, giving falling sales as the reason.

"If this situation isnít resolved, itís likely weíll see widespread stand-downs across the automotive industry."

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