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Issue #1544      25 April 2012

The “Toyota way”

Sack and demonise your workforce

On Monday last week, Toyota commenced one of the most callous and insensitive “releasing” of 350 of its workforce at its assembly plant in Altona, Victoria. One by one, the targeted workers were tapped on the shoulder, escorted off the job by security guards and taken in a mini-van to a nearby reception centre to be told they were sacked. At the end of the day, the rest of the workforce was left waiting anxiously to see if it would be their turn the next day. Their union points out that the Tokyo-based transnational targeted injured workers, shop stewards and occupational health and safety reps.

More than a third of the sacked workers have indicated they will challenge their dismissals and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) is planning separate legal action.

Since the company announced back in January that it was going to sack 350 of its Altona workforce, 3,350 workers have been living under a cloud waiting to learn their future. The AMWU demanded that sackings be voluntary but Toyota insisted they be compulsory.

Toyota gave each sacked worker a brown folder with their redundancy details (four weeks’ pay for each year’s service up to 90 weeks) and a damning report on their work performance.

The report purported to give marks out of five for attendance; corporate values and the “Toyota way” (sic); skills and teamwork; technical skills; work quality; and work standards. The assessment process was highly subjective, lacked transparency, was not understood by the workers and clearly a farce as can be seen by the results. Management didn’t even do them the courtesy of explaining the results.

Pre-arranged list

Toyota’s “Oh what a feeling” adverts took on a whole new meaning. The workers and their families feel angry, confused and betrayed. They are angry, not just at losing their jobs but at the way in which they have been selected for the bullet and stigmatised as slack or incompetent workers. Some had been there 20 or 30 years.

Ian Jones, national secretary of the vehicle division of the AMWU, said that 10 percent of the workforce was sacked but 16 of the union’s 30 shop stewards and OH&S officers lost their jobs. Workers who had made WorkCover claims or raised work injury-related issues were also targeted.

“Whether I was perfect or not, they would have gotten rid of me,” Fadi Hassan told the media. Mr Hassan has been a union delegate for the past 11 years, and worked for Toyota for 16 years. He said the assessment forms were fabricated to fit a pre-arranged list of those management wanted gone.

Why else would Toyota refuse to call for voluntary redundancies if it did not have a pre-arranged list? There are workers who would like to have taken the package, but they were refused the opportunity.

The sacked workers have families, mortgages and other commitments. How do they find jobs after being sacked with a label attached saying “poor performer”?

A great thank you for the latest $100 million taxpayer handout to Toyota.

The response of the Australian government is disgraceful. The prime minister, the treasurer and minister for workplace relations have shed a few crocodile tears for the workers and indicated the government would give the sacked workers assistance in finding jobs. Not a word of condemnation of the sackings; not a call to Toyota to reinstate those workers; not even a call on the corporation to invite voluntary redundancies.

Corporate welfare

The industry is in crisis. The rise in the value of the Australian dollar has made it more difficult to export cars, but that is not the main issue. Years of attacks on workers’ wages and massive increases in productivity (output per worker) and production have resulted in a crisis of overproduction in the car and other manufacturing industries. Car sales are down, people are looking for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and competition is fierce.

The employees of the big auto corporations are paying for poor management decisions and neo-liberal economic policies, in particular, deregulation and removal of tariffs on imports by successive Labor and Coalition governments.

This has been compounded by the failure of the car companies to develop smaller and more fuel efficient and greener cars. They were making big profits and cared little about the long-term future of the industry in Australia.

These corporate parasites have regularly threatened to shut plants and go offshore, if state and federal governments failed to pour more money into their coffers. Back in November 2008, the then Rudd Labor government committed $6.2 billion in handouts to the industry over 13 years. At the time the head of Toyota Australia jubilantly declared that the corporation had got everything it wanted from the government!

The government failed to place obligations on Toyota regarding job security and working conditions. Ford is set to get another $53 million to improve fuel economy and emissions on its Falcon and Territory models. The government’s priority is exports, not job security.

Anti-union

Workers in the industry are under immense pressure to join an international race to the bottom in working conditions and wages, in the name of being “internationally competitive”, “improving efficiency” and increasing exports.

Clearing the decks of militant job delegates and unionists, Toyota aims to weaken its workforce industrially, and at the same time issue a warning to its remaining employees, that if they resist, they too could be next.

It is important that Australia maintain a strong manufacturing base. But any industry assistance should be accompanied with guarantees of job security, union-negotiated wages and working conditions and trade union rights. It should also be in line with a government plan for developing and greening the economy, not left to boardrooms in Tokyo or Detroit to determine Australia’s economic future. In the case of cars, it should involve a shift in the focus of the industry, for example, the development of electric vehicles.

Where companies receive assistance, the government should receive shares in that company. In the event of plant closures the government should step in and look at how to use the plant and workforce for the development of new models or alternative manufactured goods.  

 

Next article – Editorial – Commemoration of war

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