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Ben Schneiders
March 6, 2009

HOLDEN and unions are considering a deal that could mean thousands of manufacturing staff work even less — possibly only a few days a week — in a bid to save jobs and skills in the industry.

The negotiations have been praised by Industry Minister Kim Carr who told The Age that the co-operative approach should be used as an example across the economy.

“The model that General Motors (Holden) has followed in working with the AMWU (Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union) is one that I think others can emulate,” he said.

“The number one priority for workers now in terms of their negotiations is job security. Both companies and unions should approach this in a flexible manner.”

It is believed the discussions, which are yet to be completed, could result in staff working “rotating shorter weeks”, possibly of only a few days.

The reduced work would be on top of the high number of “non-production” days in the industry already, with 10 days chopped out of Holden’s manufacturing schedule in April. On those days, workers are typically on half-pay.

While a more co-operative environment exists at Holden, in other parts of manufacturing and the economy mistrust reigns as firms move to cut staff and hours.

At Foster’s, industrial unrest threatens to spill over after the company outsourced maintenance work at the cost of 115 jobs, while at Robert Bosch the firm accused unions of adding to job losses with their inflexibility.

Unions have also blamed companies including Pacific Brands for taking the “easier” option of laying off hundreds of staff while executives did not share the pain.

At Holden, the company is reportedly considering cutting the pay of its executives.

Ford has already frozen the pay of white-collar middle and senior managers, spokeswoman Sinead McAlary said yesterday.

AMWU’s federal vehicle secretary, Ian Jones, said “everything was on the table” in the Holden talks and he expected the discussions to be completed within a few weeks.

Mr Jones said the goal was to have as many people as possible employed at Holden, and across the sector, by the end of the year.

Manufacturing remains the biggest full-time employer in Victoria.

Mr Jones echoed Senator Carr’s comments that he was optimistic conditions would improve in manufacturing and said he expected a much healthier car industry by the end of 2009.

“Everything we do is aimed at ensuring that people have employment,” Mr Jones said.

Asked whether workers could be asked to go on half-pay for the extra days they did not work, Mr Jones would not rule that out and said working fewer days was one of a number of proposals on the table.

Mr Jones said there was a spirit of co-operation between unions and car-makers.

Holden, which employs about 6500 people in Australia including 3500 in manufacturing in Melbourne and Adelaide, would not comment directly on the talks. “We’re doing everything we can to minimise the impact on our people,” said spokesman Scott Whiffen.

Prominent businessman Lindsay Fox said the typical 40-hour week should be modified and the Federal Government should spend more on infrastructure and use the knowledge of top executives.

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