24 Oct 2009

Unions astounded at timing of job cuts announcement

7:45 am on 24 October 2009

Unions representing hundreds of New Zealand employees losing their jobs in a tyre factory closure are astounded the announcement was made on the eve of Labour weekend - a holiday celebrating the rights of workers.

Bridgestone Australia will close its Papanui manufacturing plant by Christmas putting 275 people out of work and will also close its South Australian plant which employs 600 people by April next year.

The Christchurch factory opened in 1947 and was the last one operating in New Zealand.

Bridgestone says international competition has made its manufacturing increasingly difficult and the factories in Christchurch and Adelaide are no longer commercially viable. Its tyres will now be made in Asia.

The decision was explained to employees and unions at plants on both sides of the Tasman on Friday. Bridgestone's distribution network and its staff are not affected by the closures.

Bridgestone says employees will receive their full entitlements and support services will be put in place for those who lose their jobs.

The Bridgestone Rubber Union says some families have been working at the plant across several generations and the news is a devastating shock.

Assistant National Secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union Ged O'Connell says he cannot believe Bridgestone has made the announcement just before a weekend celebrating the rights of workers.

"You get used to these plant closures being made at 4 o'clock on a Friday afternoon - that's part of the spin. I imagine that people think it's clever to do that. But to do that in New Zealand on Labour weekend is a bit callous or stupid."

But Bridgestone Australia's senior executive director Andrew Moffatt says there was no intent to be callous.

"It is totally a coincidence, it's never a good time to make these decisions. Bridgestone New Zealand is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bridgestone Australia Limited and the decision was made regarding both plants today (Friday)."

Mr Moffatt says the Christchurch plant has been losing money for years and the company is proud it kept the factory open so long.

Workers devastated, says union

The Bridgestone Rubber Workers Union represents about 195 of the workers at the Christchurch factory and says staff are devastated.

Union secretary Kerry Pearce told Checkpoint the company will pay out the workers' entitlements in full.

"There's two members that have done 45 years' service and there's a number of workers that have done 25 or 35 years. There's a bit of a mixed feeling - some of the boys are old enough to retire, but the majority of people are very much devastated."

Christchurch Central MP Brendon Burns believes the closure will have a large impact. He says the economy is not that buoyant at the moment, but blue collar manufacturing jobs lost will not easily be created elsewhere in the city.

Bridgestone to gift land for community

Bridgestone Australia plans to set aside some of the factory's land for the use and benefit of the local community.

Senior executive director Andrew Moffatt says it will gift a portion of the 12-hectare site to the Christchurch City Council.

Mr Moffatt says will ensure any land involved does not have problems such as contamination. The company is still to negotiate with the council over its plan.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker says the city will need to consult workers who are losing their jobs before accepting any land.

Mr Parker says the staff are linked to the site through their sweat, lives and stories over 60 years so it's important they have a say in what happens to it.