Author: Clay Lucas and Mark Kenny
Ford has blamed changes made by the Rudd government to fringe benefits tax (FBT) rules for hundreds of its staff being stood down on Thursday on half-wages.
Ford also confirmed workers would be stood down for five more days over August and September as a result of the change.
Ford Australia public affairs director Sinead Phipps said production would be shut down for 12 days over the next two months.
It followed a fall in sales in July, Ms Phipps said. She added, however, that only six of these days were a result of the government’s changes to the FBT rules.
Several hundred Ford production workers were stood down on Thursday, and will be again on Friday, on between 50 and 60 per cent of full pay.
Some staff would remain at work doing maintenance, she said.
Federal Industry Minister Kim Carr said no one wanted to see down days in the vehicle industry, but that these days had predated Labor’s changes to the FBT.
”Production of locally made cars has been low for some time, due largely to the impact of the high Australian dollar,” Senator Carr said.
He said this was why the Rudd government was providing a $200 million stimulus measure and a 100 per cent ”Buy Australian made” target, ”to drive up sales of locally made cars”.
Meanwhile Tony Abbott’s industrial relations spokesman, Eric Abetz, has attracted internal criticism for ”freelancing” on future Coalition policy by suggesting an Abbott government would intervene in wage settlements if wage rates were too high.
Senior Liberals were aghast on Thursday when they awoke to read that Senator Abetz had granted an unscheduled interview on his party’s workplace relations laws, during which he suggested enterprise agreements entered into by unions and employers might be struck down if deemed excessive.
He signalled changes to the Fair Work Act to require the industrial umpire to satisfy itself that productivity improvements had been ”genuinely discussed”.
The comments took his frontbench colleagues, including Mr Abbott, by surprise, with some speculating that a recent taunt by the ALP branding him ”missing in action” had spooked him.
One insider said his comments in no way reflected Coalition policy and contravened the strategy of keeping industrial relations off the front pages of newspapers during the election campaign to avoid feeding an expected WorkChoices scare campaign by Labor.
Mr Abbott has carefully steered a middle path on industrial relations, saying he would change laws only to swing the IR pendulum back ”to the sensible centre”.
This would include changing laws to stop unions holding up new enterprises through unreasonable negotiations, and limiting rights of entry of union officials.