ACTU president Ged Kearney has thrown her support behind a proposed new industrial deal between car maker Holden and workers.

About 1700 workers at Holden's Elizabeth plant will vote over coming days on a new enterprise agreement which the company says will cut $15 million a year in labour costs but keep operations viable beyond 2016.

Ms Kearney said the workers and unions recognised the importance of Holden not just in terms of direct jobs but spinoffs for manufacturing more broadly.

"This has been a hard decision, what has been negotiated at Holden, and I'm really incredibly proud of the union to have come to this point," Ms Kearney told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

"We've done it before. Back in the `80s we sacrificed a three per cent pay rise to implement superannuation.

"I hope they look to the long-term viability of that industry and that company."

Ms Kearney said Holden had initially wanted its workers to take a $200 a week pay cut, but unions did not believe this was justified.

"We didn't believe that because the salaries and the proportion of the entire production cost is about 17 per cent, and asking workers to take a 10 per cent pay cut across the board would not have been enough to save Holden.

"It's not fair that they put the entire existence of that company on the shoulder of their workers."

She noted the package included a wage pause with a wage increase if productivity increased.

"That is a sacrifice by workers but they are looking to the future," Ms Kearney said.

She said government assistance to the car industry in Australia was "by far the lowest" in comparison to other car-making nations.

The agreement is understood to give Holden more flexibility on a range of measures including cutting production for short periods in response to market demand with workers taking annual or other leave to top up their pay packets.

It will also cap redundancy payments for new staff, save the company money on income protection insurance and provides for new shift arrangements.

It will only require a simple majority of workers to accept or reject it.


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