Twelve sacked Toyota workers have filed legal action against their former employer, claiming they were made redundant because of their union activities.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the 12 workers filed the action in the Federal Court last week, demanding that the workers are reinstated at the Altona, Victoria assembly plant.
The legal action was filed only days after the union delegates were sacked, as part of a mass redundancy at the Toyota manufacturing facility, in which 350 full-time workers lost their jobs.
The AMWU says the action is set to become a landmark case, representing the workers’ rights to represent the union.
Earlier this week, over 150 people representing unions across Melbourne reportedly gathered outside the Altona plant, protesting against Toyota’s actions (see image, above right).
Toyota performed the redundancies following months of struggling for Australia’s automotive industry due to the high Australian dollar and decreased export demand.
The automotive supplier claims the redundancies were unavoidable, as they will allow the company to stay afloat in the volatile automotive market.
"Last week was a very difficult week for Toyota Australia and all those impacted," said a company spokesperson.
"Unfortunately the compulsory redundancies were critical for the future of Toyota’s manufacturing operations in Australia. More than 3,000 employees continue to work at the Altona plant making cars for domestic and export customers."
The AMWU claims the way the redundancies were carried out was ‘disrespectful and undignified’.
Late last year, Toyota workers and union representatives staged a series of strikes at the Altona plant over wage rises for workers. The strikes reportedly cost Toyota to the tune of $10 million per day in lost production.
According to a report from The Age, 3.5% of the 350 workers made redundant were union shop stewards or health and safety officers, who could have been involved in the strikes, however of the 262 workers forced to take redundancy, 7% were union delegates. The other 88 took voluntary redundancy.
"There is a stench in the way Toyota has gone about these sackings and there is a stench in the way redundancy criteria was misused to target particular employees for dismissal," said Josh Bornstein of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Bornstein, who is representing the workers.
“When we have workers who have given nearly two decades of their life to the company being told by their manager on the day of the sackings ‘I told you, you shouldn’t have been a union rep’, it is clearly wrong and in breach of Fair Work Australia laws.”
AMWU Vehicles Division assistant national secretary David Smith believes the workers have a fair chance of winning in the Federal Court.
“We want to argue their case in court. If we argue successfully, and we believe there is a strong chance of that, we want them (the 12 sacked workers) put back on the job at Toyota,” he said.
"Toyota has now become the vehicle to relay a strong message that people have important rights at work, that unions can represent those rights and that people should not be unfairly targeted for standing up for their rights."
Toyota however is defending its actions, claiming the redundancy selection criteria did not discriminate against union representatives. Further, Toyota claims the union had previously given the selection criteria the go-ahead.
"Toyota Australia has been acting in accordance with its agreement with the union and will be
defending the claims lodged with the Federal Court today," said the company.
"Despite the allegations made by the union, seven percent of those made redundant were union
representatives or health and safety officers. These employee representative roles will be reelected from the remaining workforce in accordance with the enterprise agreement and relevant
legislation. The selection criteria agreed on by the union was applied fairly to all employees."
A Toyota spokesperson told Manufacturers’ Monthly that the company is doing everything it can to help-out the sacked workers, including organising two free job centres this week.
"People were given the opportunity to receive free help on their resume, practice interview techniques, speak to representatives from Centrelink and Job Network, find out if there are any current manufacturing jobs being advertised elsewhere, seek superannuation advice, etc," said the spokesperson.