“On the back of exorbitant energy price increases caused by a lack of proactive government policy, any additional imposts placed on businesses and consumers will threaten the viability of domestic investment.”
Mr Partridge said he feared for the “long-term future” of the Australian manufacturing sector, and hit out at federal government policymakers, who he said were doing nothing to tackle the problem and failing to comprehend the extent of the threat posed to the industry.
“Because they don’t see immediate job losses, they think it won’t happen,” he said.
The ASX-listed Brickworks last year acquired one of the biggest brick manufacturers in the US, Glen-Gery, in a deal worth $151 million. Mr Partridge said the differences between the US and Australian manufacturing environments were stark.
“Gas [costs] over there are less than a third,” he said. “Wages are half.”
He said the prospect of Labor winning government the coming federal election risked inflicting further pressure on manufacturing employers, with policies including union-friendly workplace relations reforms such as pattern bargaining – the right for unions to seek common terms in agreements with multiple employers across an industry at once.
“We have very peaceful industrial relations at the moment,” Mr Partridge said. “We’d hate to see that interrupted.
His comments echo concerns voiced by Mike Kane, the head of Boral, another prominent building materials manufacturer, who last month warned of “industrial mayhem” if union bargaining power was increased to this extent under a government led by Labor leader Bill Shorten.
“I’ve seen that and lived it in the United States with the Teamsters Union. It ends in tears,” said Mr Kane, who grew up in New York City. “Don’t ever dismiss the threat of co-ordinated bargaining for industrial mayhem.”
Labor employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said the ALP wanted to restore the balance in the labour market, “and this can only be achieved by employers, unions and workers bargaining under laws that deliver fair outcomes for all”.
“Corporate profits have risen five time faster than wages and Australians deserve a pay rise,” he said.
Also on Thursday, Mr Partridge criticised the federal Opposition’s negative-gearing policy, which he said would “adversely impact” construction activity, already in decline.
Brickworks on Thursday revealed its net profit had risen 18 per cent in the half-year to about $115 million. The company lifted its interim dividend 6 per cent to 19¢ per share, to be paid on April 30.
Shares in Brickworks rose 0.8 per cent on Thursday to end the day trading at $18.28.
Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.