The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said that yesterday’s decision by Holden workers to accept revised employment conditions could set a precedent.
The group’s CEO, Peter Anderson, has said that unions still had the upper hand, and the industrial relations system was too rigid, but employers may be encouraged to be more direct in negotiations with their workers.
“That is not a bad thing, but doing something about those matters is still largely under the current system in the control of unions and industrial tribunals,” Anderson told The Australian.
As reported yesterday, Holden’s Elizabeth plant employees voted overwhelmingly for fewer entitlements and a three-year pay freeze, which are part of efforts to save the troubled car maker $15 million a year.
"It (the Holden decision) illustrates rigidities within the industrial relations system and sends a message that only in extreme circumstances can steps be taken to try and contain labour costs and the consequences of unproductive and inefficient work practices," he said.
He said that it took a crisis before significant changes could be made to the agreement between staff and their employer.
"What it does is to immediately call into question whether or not our industrial relation system requires extreme measures to be taken at extreme points of the economic cycle before decisions are made that support industry and support manufacturing jobs."
John Camillo of the AMWU told the ABC yesterday that the plant’s 1,700 workers strongly voted “yes” on the ballot.
"The workers here made a clear majority vote to support the next generation of vehicles here in Australia, to make these vehicles here at the Elizabeth operation,” he told the ABC.
"I thought it was going to be very, very close but these people have made the right choice. It was a very, very strong vote in regards to a positive 'yes'."
Holden’s future is still uncertain. The company’s managing director Mike Devereux has claimed that if the Coalition – as it had pledged to do if elected – reduced assistance to the auto industry by $500 million, then the car company would stop manufacturing in Australia.