Aussie workers forced to turn Japanese, I really think so
Companies expand and companies contract. That’s capitalism, and it’s hard to get too angry at Toyota’s decision to sack 350 workers given the high Aussie dollar which makes it incredibly tough to sell Aussie-made cars overseas, and especially compared to the greedy banks, who dispense with families’ livelihoods in order to make huge profits even bigger.
That said, there were several ugly things about the sacking of 350 workers from Toyota’s Altona plant this week.
One was the officious way Toyota did the deed, humiliating long-serving workers with heavy-handed security guards which union leaders likened to “Nazis”. Then there was Tony Abbott, who showed zero sympathy to the workers or their families by harnessing the moment as a platform to say how the auto industry would be even worse off under the “caaaaarbon tax”.
But easily the most insidious aspect of the whole affair was the way Toyota graded the workers with a string of criteria more in line with the wacky world of Japanese workplace culture than Australia’s longstanding and well-oiled industrial relations laws.
Truly, it seems, the Australian workplace is turning Japanese. The criteria which determined who would and wouldn’t be made redundant was based on a score. That score was based on a range of factors, including:
- the “Toyota way” and corporate values;
- safety, including wearing of uniform and proper equipment;
- skill and teamwork;
- work quality, performance, problem solving and troubleshooting;
- work standards and diligence;
- technical skills.
If you read the last five criteria on that list, you say to yourself: OK, fair enough. If an employer has to cull, they’re entitled to keep their best workers.
And remember, most large scale corporate redundancies are a case of a company closing a plant, or ceasing a particular type of activity. This is not the case here. Toyota’s Altona plant will continue to do what it does, which is make cars for the overseas market, but with less workers. So you can understand why it wants to keep the cream.
The worrying criteria are the top two. If workers are scored on attendance, then what is the point of having sick days enshrined in Australian industrial law? Catch a cold and you’re penalised. It’s blatantly fluist.
As for upholding “The Toyota Way” and the company’s “corporate values”, your guess is as good as mine, though the concept is perhaps best decoded as “being a total suck”, which is about as unAustralian as workplace behaviour could possibly get.
Quite simply, it’s impossible to imagine how Australian workers charged with assembling car parts could possibly be graded on how they uphold the arcane values of a Japanese company. Should they come to work proudly displaying pictures of their fishpond filled with koi carp? Would eating whale sushi for lunch help?
Japanese workplace culture is wildly different to our own. But really, it’s none of management’s business whether Australian workers are Rastafarians, as long as their dreads are suitably bunched and shielded from the heavy machinery. And Toyota has slickly bypassed numerous widely-held Australian standards, in what many consider to be an act without serious precedent.
By the way, in case you’re wondering precisely what “The Toyota Way” is, the five key values are listed on the Toyota’s website, and it’s a bit like that Simpsons episode where Homer grows hair and becomes an executive and tries to school the workers in the Japanese art of “jiko kanri” or “the Japanese art of self-management”. Or something.
If you’re still confused, and you’re entitled to be, Toyota includes this helpful pile of rocks to illustrate it.
Rocks or no rocks, I’m still in the dark as to what, precisely, was expected of Australian workers. You’d hope that competency was the first criteria assessed. You’d also hope that a little thing called loyalty had something to do with it, although that concept is more redundant than our auto industry itself these days.
* The author is the proud owner of a Toyota Corolla, which he finds both reliable and efficient.
Do you have to uphold strange workplace values at your company? Do you fear for your job if you don’t walk the walk? The Punch is keen to hear your stories…
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