When the federal industry minister Kim Carr announced the ALP government would give the car industry $6.2 billion in taxpayers' money in November, he declared that it amounted to a "new beginning".
The big car manufacturers welcomed the unprecedented package. Spokespeople for Ford and Holden told the November 10 Sydney Morning Herald they had no further plans to cut jobs in Australia.
Four months later, reports have surfaced that Holden is threatening to sack manufacturing workers unless unions agree to a deal that will dramatically reduce working hours and pay.
Holden's employees are entitled to ask how the company can simply pocket so much public money and still be allowed to scale back its operations.
The March 6 Melbourne Age reported that negotiations between Holden and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) have begun which "could result in staff working 'rotating shorter weeks', possibly only a few days".
Carr told the Age that workers should accept reduced hours and pay in return for keeping their jobs. "The model that General Motors [Holden] has followed in working with the AMWU is one that I think others can emulate", he said.
AMWU federal vehicle secretary, Ian Jones, confirmed to the Age that the union was in negotiations with Holden management and that a reduction of working days and pay was one of the proposals up for discussion.
It's clear that the federal government's car industry bailout has had nothing to do with protecting workers.
If working hours are reduced at Holden's plants, then the workers should have no loss in pay — it's not their responsibility to increase the profits of Holden's owners.
Instead of helping prop up car companies' profits, the government should be stepping in and taking over. The car industry could be transformed into a job-rich and environmentally sustainable alternative to the status quo by building electric cars and public transport — and guaranteeing workers' jobs.