AUS: Car industry layoffs loom
By NICOLA WEBER
AUSTRALIA'S car industry could grind to a halt this week as a stalemate continues between BHP Steel and unions picketing its Victorian Western Port plant.
Because of the dispute, the four major car makers are running short of the steel needed to keep their 12,000 workers on the job.
BHP Steel has even been resorting to helicopters to break the picket and carry steel out of the plant.
But the 2600 tonnes of steel that has been airlifed out of the site is only a fraction of the usual 50,000 tonnes needed every week.
The protest looks set to continue into its third week, with BHP refusing to talk to the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union and the Electrical Trades Union until the picket is lifted.
Holden, Ford, Mitsubishi and Toyota claim the steel shortage will force them to start shutting down production from the middle of this week.
Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott has accused the AMWU of sabotaging the car industry.
"I mean they claim to want job security, how can you protect job security by repeatedly closing the industry down," he told Channel 10.
"This picket, which is currently threatening to cripple the industry, is not a legal picket."
The two unions insist the picket is legal and claim BHP is trying to use "political and legal pressure" to end the dispute.
"I guess the disappointing thing for us is that the company won't talk to us," said ETU state secretary Dean Mighell.
"Disputes are never resolved by not talking."
BHP Coated Steel president Col Weatherstone said talks with the unions would resume once trucks were able to move in and out of the plant.
"Unfortunately, the people who are engaging in illegal activities at the picket line are putting themselves at considerable personal risk," he said.
About 280 maintenance workers at BHP's Hastings plant have been on strike since May 21 over job security and a pay rise.
BHP last week took action in the Federal Court and Australian Industrial Relations Commission over the dispute.
And Ford, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Holden are also seeking permission to sue the union for damages.