The Socialist Alliance released the statement below on April 20.
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In the space of a few days, 350 Toyota workers, including some who have spent decades working for the company, have been axed in appalling scenes at the Altona plant, west of Melbourne.
National vehicle division secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) Ian Jones said security guards “marched in like Nazis”, rounded up the targeted workers one-by-one “like cattle” and ferried them in white vans with darkened windows to a “reception centre”.
The workers were sacked on the spot. The reasons given for their dismissal included workplace productivity measures that were applied retrospectively.
Workers say Toyota has treated them like “dogs and slaves”. Union officials have called the process a “primitive” cattle cull.
Unionists and the injured targeted
Toyota claims the sacked workers were chosen based on maintaining company values and the workers’ attire, punctuality and safety record, but there are clear signs union activists and injured workers have been targeted.
Toyota has axed 10% of its workforce, yet Jones said more than half of the union’s shop stewards and health and safety reps had been sacked. The union said workers who were injured or raised injury-related issues were also targeted.
One example of the “union cleanout” was the sacking of a union member who had missed just two days work in 27 years.
Federal workplace relations minister Bill Shorten has not criticised the sackings, but merely the way Toyota went about it. Shorten said: “You can do these things in a dignified fashion.” Federal treasurer Wayne Swan merely said the sackings were “unpleasant”.
The AMWU said it will appeal to Fair Work Australia (FWA), claiming wrongful dismissal. But because of the weak, pro-bosses nature of FWA, which has kept much of the hated Work Choices laws, this appeal is unlikely to succeed.
Need for fightback
The Toyota sackings come as other companies announce mass job cuts, including Ford, Bluescope Steel, Heinz, ANZ, Bosch and National Foods.
The sackings and production cuts at Toyota will flow through to the auto components sector that supplies the car plants, resulting in more jobs lost.
The APV automotive components factory in Coburg, which supplies to all Victorian car plants, has recently gone into receivership with 126 workers likely to lose their jobs.
The Toyota sackings are the first compulsory redundancies in the car industry in 20 years. Previous job losses have been by way of voluntary redundancies.
The union did not call an immediate walkout in response to Toyota management’s targeting union representatives for the sack. The lack of a swift industrial response from the union will give other bosses confidence to follow Toyota’s path.
After an uproar among members, the AMWU is planning a big protest outside the Toyota plant on April 24.
There is enough community outrage at Toyota’s actions to shut the plant down until it reinstates the sacked workers. There needs to be sufficient union and community action to penalise Toyota for its actions so no other company tries the same thing.
Toyota – backed by millions from the public purse
The federal government has given Toyota more than $100 million over the past four years. The state government has also chipped in an undisclosed amount.
Millions more have been poured into the coffers of other car manufacturers, Holden and Ford.
This money props up car makers’ profits, but fails to guarantee jobs.
Mitsubishi received hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal subsidies right until it closed down its Australian operations in 2008, laying off 1700 workers.
For decades, Australian governments have bailed out companies to save jobs, particularly in manufacturing. This strategy has failed to save jobs time and time again.
We can’t let these corporations take the cash and destroy jobs. We need an alternative response that provides a job-rich manufacturing industry.
By sacking workers after receiving more than $100 million in handouts, Toyota has forfeited its right to its Altona car plant. The company has no right to destroy the lives of so many when public money has been used to prop it up.
State and federal governments must reveal exactly how much public money Toyota has received since it set up in Australia.
The government should issue Toyota an ultimatum: reinstate all 350 workers, or hand over the factory to the government. In other words, it should be nationalised.
Australia used to have a government-owned manufacturing sector. There was Commonwealth Engineering, the railway workshops at Newport which used to employ 800 apprentices, the naval dockyards, the munitions factory, the government aircraft factory, the power industry workshops in the Latrobe Valley and the Commonwealth Government Clothing Factory.
Toyota must also:
• open its books for public inspection (there should not be any guarantee of commercial confidentiality).
• refund the handouts it received from state and federal governments. That money could be used to run the Altona plant as a public asset or social enterprise, and to retool and retrain the workforce to produce public transport and renewable energy infrastructure.
The plant could be retooled to build electric cars, buses, trams, fast trains or components for the wind energy industry. The Ford factory in Geelong has been retooled many times to produce different things. During World War II, it was used to produce tanks and tugboats.