Two front pages appearing within a day of each other tell very different stories about Australian workplaces in 2012.
On the front page of Melbourne’s Herald Sunlast week was a story about the surprise decision by family-owned bus company Grenda Transitto pay its 1800 employees a total of $15 million in bonuses. The photo splash showed beaming family patriarch Ken Grenda
surrounded by adoring employees. That evening’s television news bulletins featured weeping employees recount the shock of finding the extra money paid into their bank accounts on pay day – ranging from $850 to $30,000 depending on their years of service.
The Grenda family had sold its bus company, established in 1945, for $400 million and Ken Grenda decided that his employees deserved to share in the spoils. “A business is only as good as its people and our people are fantastic. This is to recognise that,” he explained. One of his bus drivers returned the compliment. “Good bosses are hard to find and Ken was a very good boss, one of a kind.” Feel the love.
But there was no love lost at Toyota Australia’s manufacturing plant in the Melbourne suburb of Altona. Having earlier in the week announced lay-offs of 350 workers, Toyota’s local chief executive, Max Yasuda
, let rip on the front page of The Australian Financial Review about his workers’ lax work ethic. His beef was with Australia’s industrial relations system and workplace culture, and in particular a culture of absenteeism at Toyota that is as high as 30 per cent when a Friday work day follows a Thursday public holiday.
“If you don’t work on a Friday it is a long weekend, right?” the Yasuda spray began. “In this country, or in our factory, they just don’t come in and later on they ask for sick leave. For me this is difficult to understand, why is this allowed?” The qualification “or in our factory” is telling.
If Yasuda has a problem with absenteeism, then it is a problem of his making, or of his managers’ making. A 30 per cent absenteeism rate doesn’t say much for the esprit de corps at Toyota. Poor work cultures exist for a reason. And usually it’s poor management. Organisations with poisonous work cultures get the workplaces they deserve. As well as sacking 350 of his factory workers, Yasuda would do well to clean out his management ranks. He might also want to pick up the phone to Ken Grenda to get some tips on harmonious workplace relations.