11 Mar 2013

Redundant workers fear 'no future' in manufacturing

11:05 pm on 11 March 2013

An opposition inquiry into manufacturing has heard from workers who fear for their future in the sector.

The inquiry, being run by four political parties amid claims of a crisis in manufacturing, heard submissions in Dunedin on Monday.

A former worker and union delegate from Oamaru's Summit Wool Spinners plant, Sharon Solomon, told the inquiry the effect of 160 jobs going from the town of 13,000 is the same as if a factory of 20,000 people had closed in Auckland.

Ms Solomon said many of the worst hit were women over 40 years old because although they were very good at their work, they did not have any other skills.

"Very, very good at what they did do; not a lot of scope. Manufacturing is on the decline. When you live in small town, it is vital to the economy that we retain what we have."

She said the effect of 160 jobs going from a town of 13,000 would be the same as a factory of 20,000 people closing in Auckland.

Summit's last manufacturing shift was on 25 February. The plant's buyer, Godfrey Hirst, has indicated it may rehire a skeleton staff of up to 50.

A former worker and union representative from the mostly-closed Hillside railway workshops, Les

Mr Ingram said in his view KiwiRail never wanted its train-building workshops to succeed and their failure was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Under questioning he said Hillside's demise happened after it was not given a chance to tender for part or all of an Auckland locomotive contract.

He said it would have cost only $4 million more to be competitive on contracts to build 300 wagons, yet the wagons were ordered from China.

Mr Ingram said he could not find work despite more than 40 years of engineering experience because the industry was on the decline.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union organiser John Kerr described the tendering process as a farce, which never gave Hillside a fair shot.