The CSR Exit Strategy Driving Toyota
2 December 2015 at 11:30 am
Businesses often encounter challenges when incorporating ethical practices into their daily operations, but Toyota Australia is facing a new test in maintaining its corporate social responsibility standards as it prepares to close its doors. Ellie Cooper investigates.
Early in 2014 Toyota Australia announced that it would end car manufacturing at its Altona plant in Victoria by the end of 2017, with thousands set to lose their jobs.
But Public Affairs Manager of Toyota Australia, Katarina Persic, said the company still has a commitment to CSR despite the conflicting circumstances.
“There will be a lot of people losing a job and we know that. Approximately 2,500 people at the plant that makes parts will lose a job, but we will still continue as a company, there will be 1,200 of us and we will be sales and marketing,” Persic said.
“We will be importing cars and people will be buying them, we’re still the biggest car seller therefore we still have to do CSR.
“So how do you still do CSR when you know that people are losing their jobs? Some people might say CSR is actually giving people jobs. It’s quite delicate.”
Persic said the company’s priority is supporting retrenched workers. As part of an ongoing plan, Toyota established the DRIVE program to help employees transition into new careers, especially as the wider car industry also shuts down.
“Every employee has a career counsellor and develops an individual career plan, and over these years until exit, and post-exit for another six months to a year, every person develops a career plan,” Persic said.
“A person might say, ‘I’ve always wanted to be a chef, I’ve always wanted to be a personal carer’, and [the counsellor will] look at all the courses out there and the skills that the person has and what skills they would need.
“And Toyota pays for that person to do that training or upskilling in whatever they want, as long as it’s done outside of work hours.
“They can be a qualified chef by the time they walk out at the end of 2017. They’re very well looked after and supported to find their next career or direction.”
Over the first phase of DRIVE, workers attended centres at both the Altona plant and Port Melbourne head office to speak to case managers about their future plans. In the second phase, they are now receiving referrals for additional training and assistance programs.
“Everyone has an individual career plan done… I think half of the employees have already had their first interview and are starting to develop a plan, people are already doing courses at night,” Persic said.
“I know some people who are wanting to get into photography or small business or total career changes and that’s all being paid for.”
Toyota expects that the majority of impacted workers will seek new employment opportunities, with fewer retiring or becoming self-employed, and Persic said that the company has a responsibility to facilitate this process.
“It’s about a respectful transition, what we’re saying in these next few years is it’s important that… our people are our number one and we need to respectfully transition these people,” she said.
“We’ve got the time, we know we’re here until the end of 2017 so people can develop new careers, new ideas and put that into practice and we’ll help them to do that.
“I don’t think any [other] employer is that kind to say, yep we’ll pay for the course, we’ll pay for whatever it is you want to do.”
Toyota’s exit strategy has gained some kudos from the major workers union, although it would obviously prefer the company to reverse its decision to stop manufacturing in Australia.
Dave Smith is the national secretary of the Australian Metal Workers Union vehicles division who has been working with Toyota to transition workers.
“There is nothing wrong with the intent of the [Toyota] plan and the effort that they are putting into it,” Smith said.
“I would much prefer to applaud them if they reverse their decision but that’s not going to happen unfortunately. They are committed to try to look after their workers and so we are certainly pleased that’s the case.
“We are quite active on the ground with our shop stewards and next year we are planning to up the [union] focus on the closure and try to encourage workers to take advantage of the services that Toyota are providing.
“Some of our members are still struggling to get their head around a lot of this and where it’s going and what it means so we will certainly be getting out next year and try to promote the fact that they need to start to think about life after Toyota and transitioning into new employment.
“If you don’t get in early the problem is that people suddenly find themselves unemployed and they’re not in the best position to move into employment. We’d like to think that when they leave the plant they are in a position where they can immediately start the search for work and be in a position where they have the skills in the area that they want to move into and be able to make that transition.”
Smith agrees that for Toyota and the workers the transition is certainly a lot harder than what it seems.
“There are a lot of language and literacy issues at Toyota. Many of our members are from non-English speaking backgrounds so the company is putting a lot of effort into in terms of bringing people’s language, literacy and numeracy up to a point where they can start to address the upskilling programs and that that it won’t be a barrier for them when they leave,” he said.
Along with looking after employees, Persic said Toyota Australia wants to continue its external CSR commitments, including a community legacy project.
“We decided that we would love to leave some sort of community legacy for the people in Altona particularly, where we’ve had our factory for many, many years and who’ve always supported Toyota and been proud to have Toyota there,” she said.
“It’s just that thank you to the people of Altona and wider Hobsons Bay… and just to leave a positive mark, for something to remember Toyota.”
“Our Head, Mr [Akio] Toyoda, said that we should leave a legacy, something that’s positive, because it is sad that manufacturing is closing.”
Over the past year the company has worked with the local council to choose a project that would have lasting impact, based on the needs of the community. It was decided that Toyota would make a contribution to the Kororoit Creek project, which has an existing development strategy until 2030.
Persic said the project “makes sense” because the creek runs directly behind the plant.
“It was quite hard to find something, but in the end it was pretty obvious. We’ve had a connection to that creek, we’ve had many tree plantings along there for a long time, so all our employees feel a connection with it, as well as the community,” she said.
“We see it, it’s behind the plant and it goes through Hobson’s Bay… and there's a joint project between all those councils to fix up the natural environment around the creek.
“It’s also missing parts of all the bike trails that will be the link from north to south so people can travel from Altona, right up to the freeway… and right along Federation trail into the city, so it makes another piece of the puzzle of all the bike paths that are needed to be able to bike all around the West.”
Toyota has committed to funding the first three stages of the upgrade, remaining involved until manufacturing ends.
“It’s about $12 million to fix up the section within Hobsons Bay and council haven’t done that because it’s so much money, we said if we kick-started it by donating $1.8 million that would be a start for them to search for extra funding from federal and state [governments], so that initiated that community legacy project,” Persic said.
“There’s a committee in the works until the end of 2017, we hope to open a section of the bike and walking path together with all the stakeholders.”
Along with the Altona project, Persic said the company is also looking for a community legacy project for Sutherland Shire in Sydney, where Toyota’s sales and marketing office will also be closing, with all operations moving to Port Melbourne.
Persic said despite ending manufacturing, both the community and employee response to its projects has been positive.
“No one has ever, ever said we shouldn’t do CSR because all these people are losing their jobs. I’ve never had a comment from any of the people losing jobs that have said, what you’re doing is wrong with Kororoit Creek and you should be putting that money into keeping the jobs,” she said.
“Not one person has ever said that because we’ve had a really good relationship with the creek, with the Friends of Lower Kororoit Creek, with council, and the employees see the need for the creek and for what it can do for the community.
“It’s that balance of you know that people will be losing jobs but you should keep doing CSR activities, so it’s quite interesting to be in this space.”