1 Feb 2013

Union praises departing woollen mill owner

7:35 pm on 1 February 2013

A union for workers being made redundant from an Oamaru woollen mill is praising the departing Japanese owner.

Summit Wool Spinners on Thursday told its 192 staff that they would be made redundant as the plant has been sold to carpet maker Godfrey Hirst, though a skeleton staff may be rehired.

Canterbury Spinners, a subsidiary of Godfrey Hirst, has a conditional sale agreement to buy the company at the end of February, provided it can turn the plant into a viable business.

There have been urgent meetings around the North Otago town on Friday as union and community leaders sought a clear picture of job losses atthe woollen mill.

Details of the redundancies have to be agreed between the workers, their unions and current owner Sumitomo.

John Gardner, lead organiser for the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), said on Friday an agreement is not complete, but they have been able to secure some enhancements for workers who stay to the sale date.

Mr Gardner said the management has shown a generous attitude.

"Sumitomo have treated the people extremely well. The fact that we're able to negotiate some enhancements to the people who stay till the end is an indication of the good faith that is between both Sumitomo and the employees."

Mr Gardner said the unions and management have agreed to meet again on Monday to finish negotiating.

Meanwhile, Godfrey Hirst says it is possible that 50 out of the 192 workers could get jobs in the new operation.

General manager Tania Pauling told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme it was likely that 20 to 30 people might get jobs but it could be as high as 50.

The plant has been operating in Oamaru for 130 years. Summit Wool Spinners had been trying to sell it for two years due to falling demand for wool carpet in New Zealand and the high exchange rate.

The Summit Wool Spinners factory in Oamaru.

The Summit Wool Spinners factory in Oamaru. Photo: RNZ

Job prospects 'bleak'

Summit Wool Spinners is Oamaru's second largest employer and businesses fear that those facing redundancy will be forced to move out of the area to find work.

The Otago Chamber of Commerce said there are not enough jobs in wool manufacturing to go around. Chief executive John Christie said people would have to look at getting jobs in other industries.

EPMU organiser John Gardner said 40,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the past four years.