SYDNEY - The Australian government and Toyota (IW 1000/8) were at loggerheads Wednesday over why the auto giant was halting car manufacturing in the country, with the Japanese corporation rejecting Canberra's claims.
Toyota on Monday cited high production costs, a strong local dollar and a small domestic market as reasons for stopping car manufacturing in 2017, killing off Australia's 66-year-old auto manufacturing industry with Holden and Ford having already made the same decision.
But conservative Treasurer Joe Hockey on Wednesday was quoted as saying that, in a private conversation with Toyota Australia president Max Yasuda in December, he was told workplace conditions at the company's Melbourne plant was the key reason.
The claim was made in the Australian Financial Review, with Hockey later confirming the story.
"The fact is they were very concerned about the conditions that existed at Toyota in Australia," Treasurer Joe Hockey said, adding that this included "militancy" at the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU).
He cited the example of the Australian plant closing for 21 days over Christmas with Toyota unable to supply its biggest market, the Middle East.
Hockey claimed that when Toyota asked workers to instead have a 10-day shutdown, the union intervened and took the automaker to court.
But Toyota had a different version of events, directly contradicting the treasurer.
"Toyota Australia has never blamed the union for its decision to close its manufacturing operations by the end of 2017, neither publicly or in private discussions with any stakeholders," the company said in a statement.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union called the Toyota statement a "blow to the government's credibility," while Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten blasted Hockey's "pathetic attacks on these workers."
Unions fear Toyota's departure will see 50,000 jobs lost along the supply chain, mostly in components manufacturing and transport, and Labor has blamed the government for not doing enough to prevent Toyota from walking away.
The decision to halt manufacturing follows Mitsubishi (IW 1000/219) shuttering plants five years ago, Ford (IW 500/8) halting production in 2016 and General Motors (IW 500/5) announcing in December that its Holden offshoot would cease making cars locally in 2017.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014