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Minister criticises automotive union for strike action and calls on Labor Party to intervene to end strike.

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ELEANOR HALL: While as we heard earlier, three-quarters of employers in a recent survey said they support a safety net campaign for employee entitlements, the federal government is continuing to denigrate the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. Industry minister, Nick Minchin, is today backing up the attacks of Industrial Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, who labelled the union campaign ‘treason’. Speaking to Lachlan Parker in Adelaide, Mr Minchin has described the action as thuggery.


NICK MINCHIN: It is the trade union movement, and in particular the AMWU, which is holding Australia’s car industry to ransom. This strike really is a disaster for Australia’s car industry. At the very time we have Prime Minister Howard in Japan trying to secure further investment in Australia’s car industry, and secure Australian jobs in our car industry, this union is threatening jobs in the car industry and threatening the industry’s future. It really is extraordinarily irresponsible behaviour. It is, as Mr Abbott said, union thuggery. Mr Beazley, as the friend of the trade unions, ought to call off his union mates if he really cares about the Australian car industry.


LACHLAN PARKER:  How serious to you think the threat is that this will go a lot wider than just the automotive industry?


NICK MINCHIN:   Well, the AMWU is saying they will take it wider. That is why it is important that Mr Beazley, as the leader of the labour movement in this country, tells the union movement to back off before they do irreparable damage to Australia’s international reputation as a reliable supplier of quality products. We will not be able to break into international markets if Mr Beazley’s union mates cause so much damage to the reliability of Australia as a supplier.


LACHLAN PARKER: Apart from asking the Opposition Leader to sort of rally the troops, what can the government do?


NICK MINCHIN:   As I understand it, Mr Abbott is looking at what options the government might have in an industrial relations sense—whether there is the opportunity for the government to intervene before the commission—and I am sure Mr Abbott will consider all those avenues in consultation with the employers. It is a dispute between the union and the employer but we would want to work with employers to see if there is any way in which the federal government can assist in bringing a very speedy end to this stupid and very damaging dispute. But it is important that Mr Beazley show some leadership and does tell his union mates that this is a crazy dispute and they ought to back off.


LACHLAN PARKER: We hear continually of workers who seem to fall through that safety net, so what is wrong with them setting up a system to protect themselves?


NICK MINCHIN:   They are asking, as I understand it, the companies to put aside the money in a union trust fund, which, as the companies properly say, would be very damaging to their own cashflows and, therefore, threaten the viability of a number of companies and probably bring about the very thing which the unions are concerned about.


I heard the Industry Group this morning say that their lawyers have given them advice that they should not sign the trust documents which the unions are demanding they sign. So I think this issue has a lot further to go. In any event, taking strike action of this kind is the last way that you would want to resolve such a dispute. And Mr Beazley ought to call on his union mates to back off before they do irreparable damage to the Australian car industry.


ELEANOR HALL: Industry minister, Nick Minchin, speaking to Lachlan Parker in Adelaide.