Up to 70 engineering workers at General Motors Holden’s Port Melbourne plant are preparing to depart the company, with management tapping shoulders yesterday afternoon to offer targeted payouts, Crikey can reveal.

And a further 200 middle managers, engineers and office staff are said to be in the firing line after export markets tanked.

Sources close to the firm have told Crikey that senior management informed staff yesterday that a significant proportion of its white collar base will be offered voluntary separation packages to leave quietly.

A full staff meeting yesterday was followed by one-on-one sessions to discuss the looming layoffs.

Sources said that around 40% of white-collar staff could go, although that figure was disputed by Holden.

Holden employs around 2,000 workers at is corporate office including several hundred in the engineering and design area.

A final decision on numbers and redundancy targets would be finalised over the next few months, a Holden spokesperson said.

“We are offering voluntary packages within some of our functions, primarily office-based functions at our Port Melbourne headquarters.

“Some of these functions have remained untouched over the years as we have taken a shift out at our Elizabeth plant, as export and engineering projects have come and gone and as our domestic markets have contracted.”

Insiders have described a tense atmosphere at Port Melbourne, after it was announced that a $200 million line of credit extended by the Rudd Government would not cover redundancies.

It is believed that a delay on reaching a decision was due to official restrictions on the use of taxpayer funds.

Some workers are believed to have been actively seeking the packages, with projected payouts said to total $100,000.

The union representing professional engineers at the firm, who are among those targeted, said there was significant concerns among staff.

Leslie Adams, director of the Victorian branch of The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, said the current round of separation packages may not be the last:

“How do you choose yes or no, if you don’t know what is coming up?

“We want to ensure that people are not enthusiastically encouraged to take a package if they really don’t want one,” Ms Adams said.

Work at Holden has dried up after the global financial crisis and dwindling domestic demand flayed sales. Engineering work on the US Chevrolet Camaro has finished and work destined for Korea is believed to have concluded.

The latest layoffs come after Holden announced its four-cylinder Fisherman’s Bend engine plant would close before the end of the year, leading the axing of more than 500 jobs.

As part of its global restructuring plans, Holden’s US parent announced plans last year to shed 47,000 jobs.

Peter Fray

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