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February 12th 2014 print

David Flint

From Shop Floor To Centrelink

Toyota workers might have voted to consider changes the company insisted it needed to remain viable, except that their union bosses found a sympathetic judge to silence them. Now they have lost their jobs

terminationDespite what interested parties are saying, there can be no doubt that Toyota decided to close its Australian manufacturing operations because union intransigence over reforming  workplace conditions made its Melbourne plant unviable. The automaker particularly objected to  the 21-day Christmas close-down — and if that wasn’t enough,  the half day of work on the last day before the shutdown, not to mention the extraordinary 10 days additional  paid leave for all union delegates.

What is clear is that some trade union bosses are quite willing to sacrifice their members’ jobs  rather than  allow sensible reforms to keep a business going. The plain fact is they’d rather ”blow up the joint” than accept reasonable changes. This is nothing new. We have seen it before . Union bosses  followed the same strategy with Qantas as they did with our shipping line.

Their attitude: To hell with the workers. We won’t concede a point even if it means we’ll destroy the business and there will be no jobs.’ So why does Bill Shorten and the parliamentary Labor Party allow this? Why don’t they protect workers’ jobs? Why do they go along with this ”burnt earth” policy?

It’s because too many of them  come from, are funded by and are chosen by the trade union movement. And remember, rather than workers who have been chosen from the rank-and-file by the rank-and-file, unions are led by career trade union bosses who have their eyes on safe seats in Parliament and, all too often, feathering their nests. The interests of the workers come last. Remember, in the recent vote to elect a new leader of the Labour Party the rank-and-file did not want Bill Shorten. The trade union bosses did, and it was they who prevailed.

But back to Toyota. Last year, when the company explained its impossible situation  to the workers, management asked them to vote on some very reasonable reforms.  All very democratic and reasonable. The union bosses  weren’t going to allow the workers to vote on that. Was this because they knew the workers would have prefered to keep their jobs, rather than force Toyota to follow Ford and Holden into history?

Quadrant Online: What Toyota Asked Of Its Unions

The union bosses sought an injunction from the Federal Court against Toyota putting the reforms to democratic  vote. (The fact is of course we should not even have a Federal Court. Such questions are best decided by state Supreme Courts. But quite unnecessarily the Federal politicians — without any mandate whatsoever — have imposed  a vast  new layer of judges, judicial bureaucracy and lawyers on the nation. Moreover, it has become clear over time that appointments to that court are in practice left much more  to the politicians than is the practice in the states.)

In any event, the case came up before Justice Mordecai “Mordy” Bromberg SC. His interpretation (read the full judgment here)  of Kevin Rudd’s and Julia Gillard’s industrial legislation was that allowing Toyota workers to vote on their future would violate the award. Incidentally, Justice  Bromberg delivered the famous adverse ruling against Andrew Bolt in the free speech case. In 2001 he had run  for preselection for the ALP for the seat of Burke, now held by Brendan O’Connor.

Toyota decided to appeal to the Full Court of the Federal Court but, of course, there would be no guarantee that the Bromberg decision would be reversed. At that stage Tokyo must have lost the last shred of its patience. According to a report by Phillip Coorey in the Australian Financial Review, February 12, 2014,  Toyota informed the Abbott government in December that the key impediment to the company staying in Australia was the workplace conditions at its Melbourne plant.

Toyota Australia president Max Yasuda is believed to have told Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey that altering workplace conditions was a prerequisite if the company was to maintain manufacturing operations in the country. Toyota has since denied the unions forced the closure. No doubt they want to get out of the country without further problems, and keep selling their cars in Australia before and after the closure.

Amongst those lamenting the reasons for Toyota’s departure was Cochlear CEO Chris Roberts, who criticised the Labor Party’s industrial-relations regime, describing it as a “huge negative” for both the domestic economy and local manufacturers. This suicidal and destructive attitude permeates the class of powerbrokers dominating both the trade unions and the upper echelons of the ALP. As we have seen in the construction industry, they apparently preferred to see a descent into a state of criminal anarchy rather than see the Australian Building & Construction Commission, that once-powerful policeman,  return to the beat.

There are, of course, some industries which cannot go offshore. Take restaurants, for instance. Their only alternative is to close or close partially. If you ever wonder why so many eateries are shut on Sundays and public holidays, blame the ruinous loadings imposed by the Gillard government at the behest of its union patrons.

As Toyota prepares its Altona plant for closure, Labor and the unions have demonstrated once again that they would rather achieve and retain over-the-top awards, even if it means workers they claim to represent lose their jobs.

Emeritus Professor David Flint is chairman of CANdo.org.au  His most recent book, written with Jai Martinlovits, is Give Us Back Our Country

His most recent book,