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The End Of The Road For Ford Is A Shock To The Nation

The failure of this Federal Government to save our auto industry will haunt Victoria for many years to come.

07/10/2016 4:56 PM AEDT | Updated 07/10/2016 5:06 PM AEDT
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Mick Tsikas / Reuters
Ford Australia's head office in Melbourne.

The closure of the Ford plants at Broadmeadows and Geelong has been a shock to the nation. Partly because of the highly politicised nature of the closure, partly because of the iconic nature of the Ford vehicles.

At the centre of the closure are just over 1000 people who are losing secure jobs with a living wage, and don't know what comes next. These people and their families have made our country one that is prosperous, productive and inclusive. Ford cars and utes have been made in Australia for just under a century. The people who made them barrack for local footy teams, their kids play in neighbourhood parklands and their families make up our thriving communities.

They're also the best reflection of our multicultural nation. Generations of people born in Vietnam, Lebanon, Indian, the nations of former Yugoslavia and people from all over the world have worked side by side as Australians on these shop floors. Our auto industry has been a place where newly arrived migrants can earn a decent wage that could provide for a family and a life of dignity.

By standing together in union, they were able to keep themselves safe and secure. It's the kind of workplace where you look out for one another. That's why auto workers felt it was good enough for their children, and their children's children. You see, it's not just a multicultural workforce, it's a multigenerational workforce. Someone who started working for Ford as a teenage apprentice could end up working alongside their children. They could be working with their siblings, their cousins and for a lucky few, their future husband or wife. These jobs provided for families, often for generations.

Most of these auto workers have been with the company for decades, the latest data from the Australian Catholic University's Decline of the Auto Industry project tells us the average length of service is 19 years. Unfortunately this type of loyalty isn't valued in the other industries, where the jobs available to these transitioning workers will be insecure, causal and short term.

We have 600 people about to lose their jobs at Ford, and the majority of them are willing and able to keep working. Our Federal government might not see value in these people, but we as a community do.

When the Canadian car industry faced a similar situation, the previous Conservative government backed the auto workers and provided adequate subsidies over the short term. The future is still uncertain in Canada, and it might not be possible to save the industry. The difference is that some 400,000 Canadian auto workers still have their jobs. By supporting this industry, even in decline, we could have created the space and time needed to plan for effective transition, especially for the people who work for companies in the supply chain.

For those of us born and raised in Victoria, the contribution that generations of auto workers have made to our economy is part of our everyday lives. Their hard work has been at the heart of our collective prosperity. Generations of small businesses, both local and regional, have profited from the dependable wages of manufacturing workers.

The men and women who worked at the Broadmeadows and Geelong plants spend in their neighbourhoods and pay their taxes. The failure of this Federal Government to save our auto industry will haunt Victoria for many years to come.

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