Vehicle unions propose contracts

March 20, 1991

By Andrew McGain

ADELAIDE — Under cover of talk about making Australia's car industry internationally competitive and of the need for higher productivity and better quality, plans for a new round of attacks on car workers were announced last week.

Those leading the charge? Not the employers, but leaders of the car industry unions. Central to a new deal offered by the Federation of Vehicle Industry Unions is a proposal for wage contracts of two or three years' duration.

Workers would sign a contract with their employer, including a "shopfloor grievance settling mechanism" setting a 36-hour cooling-off period for both sides. Translated from ACTU-speak, this means "no-strike clause".

In exchange for contracts the unions would seek commitments that the companies would "increase their technology investment, improve their productivity and seek meaningful export markets".

Vehicle Builders Employees Federation federal secretary Wayne Blair claims such a strategy would prevent further retrenchments in the car industry (about 4000 car workers have lost their jobs in the past two years).

Given the state of the union movement after eight years of the Accord, this is dubious. Car workers would be signing the new contracts from a position of weakness.

There would be no guarantee of further work on the expiry of a contract. For the companies, inconvenient sackings and costly redundancy pay-outs would become a thing of the past. Small wonder Ford Australia president Jac Nasser has expressed enthusiasm for the union proposals.

Blair claimed the proposals are the product of six months' research, "with major input from the shopfloor". But shop stewards at the Mitsubishi plant here first learned of "their" proposals when they read about them on the front pages of last week's papers.

Mitsubishi stewards are attempting to get Blair down to the factory to explain the proposals to a stop-work meeting. Blair and his mates can expect a grilling.n

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