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by Tim Beissmann

Holden workers will vote on a new pay deal next week that will decide the future of the company’s local manufacturing operations.

The vote was originally planned to take place this Friday (August 9), but was rescheduled to August 13 by Holden to give its 1700-strong workforce in Elizabeth, South Australia extra time to absorb the proposed variations to the agreement.

“It is crucial our people are able to make a fully informed decision and we want to give them every opportunity to do so,” Holden said in a statement.

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union South Australia state secretary John Camillo told CarAdvice the new agreement proposed by Holden no longer included the wage cuts and voluntary separation package (VSP) caps of the original offer that was designed to save the company $15 million a year, but introduced changes relating to production and shift flexibility.

He said the length and amount of legal jargon used in the revised document, however, made it difficult for workers to digest, prompting the AMWU to prepare a four-page newsletter spelling out more simply the changes to the agreement, which was distributed to all workers last night and this morning.

“Over the next few days I’ll be spending time with the workers to answer any of their questions in regards to the overtime, the flexibility, what it means in regards to their wages, when the next round of collective agreements is – all those sorts of questions I’ll be taking on board,” Camillo said.

“Most of those I’ll be able to answer, some of those I might have to take away to look at a bit more deeply.”

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Camillo said the AMWU would listen to workers and gauge their reaction to the new proposed agreement.

“Two weeks ago, 90 per cent of the workforce would have said ‘no’ because there were wage cuts, the voluntary separation cap and there was no guarantee in regards to the [local manufacturing future of] Cruze and Commodore.

“What we’ve managed to do is get rid of the VSP cap, so now the people that work at Holden still get a generous voluntary separation package. There’s no wage cut, so that’s been removed, and also what we’ve managed to put in the variation is a clause that says none of these variations become in operation until Holden has made an announcement to replace the Cruze and Commodore.

“So while you might have the overtime there and the flexibility, even though the workers will vote on that next Tuesday, it’s still based on Holden coming back and saying ‘yes, you’ve got approval for Cruze and Commodore’.

“So if it takes three months, six months, nine months, none of this happens until Detroit, Mike Devereux, or whoever gives the okay for the replacement of Cruze and Commodore.”

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Camillo said Holden’s position on its manufacturing future was unchanged if the workers voted against its new proposal.

“[Holden manufacturing executive director] Richard Phillips said to workers on day shift and afternoon shift a ‘no’ vote means there will not be a replacement of Cruze and Commodore.

“It’s not the union saying this, it’s the company saying this in their newsletters to the workers. They’ve been saying it from day one.

“This is not just GM in Australia putting the pressure on workers. GM in Detroit is saying to all GM plants you either become more flexible despite the market or you don’t get the tick of approval.

“Because of the bankruptcy a couple of years ago in America, GM now has more bean counters in a lot of those [management] positions and so they are more focused on making profits rather than keep plants going.”

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Camillo said closing the Elizabeth plant would affect many more Australians than just the 1700 that worked within its walls.

“The workers here at Elizabeth will vote, but the first- and second-tier suppliers don’t get any chance to vote,” he said.

“If Holden closes down, you’re looking at 16,000 jobs [that will be lost] here in South Australia with suppliers, logistics and so on.”

Holden says it will wait for the result of the federal election before deciding on its future investment in Australia.