The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) says Toyota Australia's handling of the sacking of 350 employees from its Altona production plant in Melbourne has set the relationship between the two organisations back decades.
Around 250-270 Toyota Australia employees were handed compulsory redundancy packages yesterday on what AMWU assistant federal secretary David Smith described as a "horrible" day.
"The process adopted by the company was just a disgrace," Smith said. "You really can’t describe it in any other way."
The sackings will be completed today, with the final 80-100 workers from trades, supervisory and technical areas at Altona notified of their fate from 7am. Redundant employees will be paid out four weeks for each year of service at the Altona plant, up to a maximum of 90 weeks.
Toyota Australia announced in January it was cutting 350 workers from its 3350-strong assembly line workforce in Melbourne, blaming the decision on difficult market conditions and the high Australian dollar.
Toyota Australia spokeswoman Beck Angel said the sackings were carried out as agreed to by the AMWU as part of a 10-week negotiation process.
"All sacked employees had a one-on-one meeting and appropriate services including counselling, superannuation advice, etc. were made available to sacked employees," Angel said.
But Smith said the process was far from dignified for the sacked employees.
"[It was] basically line management tapping people on the shoulder, taking them down to their lockers, giving them a bag, having them escorted off the site by security guards," he said.
"The guys there, a number of them just asked whether [they] could go back through the plant to say goodbye to people, and they were told, 'Bugger off. It's not happening. Get over the road.' It was really just a horrible process."
Smith said he was surprised and disappointed at Toyota Australia's decision to employ "heavy-handed" security guards to escort sacked employees out of the facility.
"You can understand that some people will get upset about it [being sacked] but people don’t resort to violence, not in my experience," he said.
"A lot of those workers that have been working for Toyota for a long period of time… it’s hardly what you deserve. To lose your job is bad enough but to be marched out by heavies, I just think it’s disgraceful."
Smith said comments in the media from Toyota that the union had requested the security presence was "absolute nonsense", and said AMWU vehicle division secretary Ian Jones called the company yesterday to "give them a real spray about it".
Under the agreement between Toyota Australia and the AMWU, all Altona plant employees were assessed according to a set of criteria over the past few weeks, with employees given a score between one and five for a number of key areas.
Despite this, Smith said many sacked workers were at a loss to understand why they were made redundant, and said there were a number of "discrepancies" in the process.
"Despite the criteria and what people were supposed to be selected against, [Toyota Australia management] just made up their mind who they wanted out of the plant. It didn’t matter whether you’d been there one week or 27 years, you were going."
Angel strongly refuted those claims, insisting every worker's employment was considered according to the same set of criteria.
"That selection criteria looked at a range of factors including behaviour, skills and knowledge," she said. "No one was targeted. Everyone was assessed using that exact same criteria."
Smith said 168 workers indicated they would be happy to be made redundant in the lead-up to this week's sackings, although so far less than half of those have been made redundant, meaning a number of workers who were happy to leave have kept their jobs, while many who wanted to stay have been forced to leave.
Angel said Toyota Australia has put in place a number of programs to assist redundant and continuing workers.
"Counselling is available to everyone, including the workers selected and also those who remain if they wish to speak to someone," she said.
"Both yesterday and today we also had representatives from Job Network as well as pay roll and superannuation advisors there to speak to staff.
"Next week all selected employees will be encouraged to attend a free 'job centre' that we’ve organised."
The job centre will be held over two days and will give sacked employees access to Centrelink workers and advice on superannuation, offer them assistance with their resumes and interview techniques, and help them begin to look for new employment.
Smith said the AMWU would also provide assistance to sacked workers, calling in assistance from federal government workers who help with retrenched automotive workers, help sacked employees register with Job Services Australia, give them information about the training available to them to help them up-skill/re-skill, and ensure they have access to job providers to give them the best opportunity to relocate to what would most likely be a new industry.
Smith said it would be difficult for the AMWU to move from the sackings, insisting the relationship between his organisation and Toyota Australia had been "soured no end".
"Ian Jones … was quoted as saying it's been put back two decades and I think that that's about right to be quite honest," Smith said.
"I’m sure that when the workforce or any of the union delegates out there are asked to cooperate with anything I don't think it's going to be forthcoming in a hurry."
"One of the consequences of a bad relationship will be whatever it is they want, whether it be change or whatever, it will be opposed most of the way because people will just not want to cooperate with them."
Angel said Toyota would "continue to have an open dialogue with the union in the future and go from there", but admitted the fractured relationship was regrettable.
"It has been a difficult week for Toyota," Angel said.