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Holden job spin hits the skids

By Malcolm King - posted Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Holden and the South Australian government have been doing burn-outs with the truth, as their dodgy claim that 80 per cent of former Elizabeth plant workers have found secure jobs, blows a head gasket.

An Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) survey commissioned by the Marshall Government and buried until now, shows that of the 745 former Holden workers surveyed, only 193 (34 per cent) had found secure, fulltime work.

This figure corresponds with the Adelaide Mitsubishi closure in 2008.


Only 5 per cent of those 745 former GM workers, found a job with the same or better pay and conditions than Holden. The survey found 132 were unemployed.

Professor John Spoehr, Director of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute in Adelaide, said in The Australian (July 14, 2018), "… we don't know exactly how many people have gone into full-time, part-time, casual work or self-employment - that's one of the flaws in the data."

The main flaw was the Marshall Government buried the truth.

After Holden closed, the state government, Holden spin doctors and sections of the media, took comfort in the moderate rise of the local ABS unemployment figures.

They hailed the supposed migration of workers in to new jobs, as a major success.

There are three reasons why the unemployment figures did not skyrocket:

  • Many former Holden workers did not immediately look for another job. Because they were not looking for a job, they failed the ABS survey definition of being unemployed.
  • Because some found temporary work, such as helping a mate on a mowing round or doing casual bar work, they were also not classified as unemployed. Holden counted them as gainfully employed.
  • Thirdly, some left the state.

In Victoria, the AMWU tracked hundreds of workers one year after the closure of Ford and Toyota. One in five of the laid-off employees who wanted to continue working, was jobless.

Of those who have managed to land new jobs, only a minority – 45 per cent – were hired on a full-time permanent basis. Many had been through one or more jobs since their retrenchment, the research found, while angst over job insecurity and financial pressure was rife.

In 2017, Holden workers entered a maelstrom of high unemployment of around 14 per cent in the City of Playford in Adelaide's north. Under employment was about 12 per cent.

The notion that there were jobs waiting for these men and women is fanciful, although a few found work on the Northern Connector, the Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme, Sonnen and at VeroGuard.

There are three questions to ask here:

  • If the Marshall government knew the real rates of fulltime employment, why didn't it release the figures?
  • Why did the media report an 80 per cent employment figure without asking for proof?
  • What is the role of the Stretton Centre? It was commissioned to conduct reports examining employment and unemployment in Adelaide's north. The $17 million building appears to have morphed into a convention centre.

With the exception of the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute, Adelaide's so-called academic 'think tanks' are at best, a holding pen for blunt minds and at worst, conduits for state government propaganda.

Another important question is how can reports such as the Transition of the Australian Car Manufacturing Sector (July 2019), produce a report which is so at odds with the findings of the AMWU in South Australia?

It should be noted that the AMWU officer did a physical count and interviews with former Holden workers. The TACM report methodology was primarily by emails and phone calls.

All governments bury bad news but this is extraordinarily. It shows that those who blew their trumpets loudly and claimed that 80 per cent of Holden workers got jobs after the closure, simply lied. I suggest many knew they were counting insecure, casual work as full-time employment.

This sort of shenanigans is a disease, not only in political circles but in human resources and employment services. The level of connivance and mendacity is extraordinary. We are not talking about bags of wheat. These are people's lives.

There are plenty of areas in Australia that are doing it tough. There's South Western and Western Sydney, Illawarra, North West Melbourne, Ipswich and Logan, Caboolture, North West and Northern Tasmania, South West Perth and Whyalla and Port Pirie. But Adelaide's north is very worrying as anger and division is festering.

One issue not much talked about is the hatred of the former Holden workers in Adelaide by predominantly white, older blue-collar males. They think the former automotive workers were treated with favouritism because they got pay outs and retraining assistance.

In South Australia, a wedge is developing in the working class between those unemployed men and women who got pay outs and those who didn't. The politics of envy is rearing its ugly head in the lower socio-economic echelons. Politicians deny there is a problem.

Meanwhile David Wark, the CEO of St Vincent De Paul, said he has seen a staggering rise in demand for food and financial relief in the northern suburbs. In the first three months of 2019, the charity assisted 1,059 children, compared with 921 for the same period in 2017.

"We used to provide mainly food and clothing but now it's food hampers plus assistance with rent and assistance with bills. It's not only the staff of Holden, but also suppliers. People are hurting and businesses are doing it tough too."

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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