Australian court blocks Toyota worker vote on contract

SYDNEY Thu Dec 12, 2013 1:58am EST

SYDNEY Dec 12 (Reuters) - An Australian court on Thursday blocked Toyota Motor Corp from holding an employee vote on proposed contract changes, dealing a blow to the company as it seeks to cut costs and decide its manufacturing future in the country.

The world's largest automaker has been negotiating changes to its workplace agreement as it seeks to improve productivity in Australia, where General Motors Co has just made the decision to stop production.

The Federal Court of Australia supported a complaint filed by four employees that Toyota could not change its agreement until it expires in March 2015, Toyota said in a statement.

Toyota Australia president and CEO Max Yasuda said he was disappointed with the court decision.

"We believe that we are within our rights to vary our workplace agreement provided the majority of our employees support the changes through a formal vote," Yasuda said in a statement.

Yasuda said the proposed changes were meant to remove "outdated and uncompetitive" terms and conditions to make Toyota Australia competitive.

"GM Holden's planned closure in 2017 will put our manufacturing operations and the local supplier network under unprecedented pressure, so it is now more important than ever before that we make urgent changes," he said.

GM said on Wednesday it was pulling out of Australian car production as it was no longer viable due to the sustained strength of the Australian dollar, high cost of production, and a small, fragmented and highly competitive domestic market.

Toyota, which employs 4,000 people and produced almost 100,000 vehicles in Australia last year, said it was now considering its options, including whether it would appeal the decision.

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