Toyota's selective sacking raises big questions
Thursday, 26 April 2012
Author: Jackie Range, BRW Business Magazine
Last weeks's 350 redundancies at a Toyota Victorian assembly plant were controversial and threw the industrial relations culture into sharp focus.
Toyota selected workers to be laid off at its Altona manufacturing plant based on criteria including attendance, attitude and performance ability.
Laid off employees were upset, trade unionists argued the process was unfair and politicians expressed concern about how the matter was handled. "They [the redundancies] represent a low point in Australian industrial relations culture at a time when best practice approaches need to be adopted to attract and retain employees," says John Spoehr, University of Adelaide's associate professor at Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre. "The approach adopted by Toyota stigmatised the workers that were made redundant."
Some believe a legacy of poor labour relations in Australia has spawned workplace cultures which, while improved, still need to change. "We need to do further deregulation and freeing up of some of the contraints in our labour market. I'd like to see more freedom there," says Danny Samson, a professor at the University of Melbourne whose new book Implementing Strategic Change is coming out in May.
Along with that needs to come improved levels of leadership and management, he says. Despite the furore over the redundancy program, companies could learn from Toyota's example as one of the world's most successful businesses. "We would be a much better country and manufacturing sector if more companies were run as professionally as Toyota," Samson says. On Toyota's part, a spokeswoman says, "the union did agree on the selection criteria and when we had to assess 3000 people we felt that the selection criteria was the most fair and equitable way to access everyone."