11 Jan 2019

Foundry workers say Christmas closure came as a shock: 'We had no idea'

8:43 am on 11 January 2019

A group of Auckland workers who returned from their summer holidays to find they were jobless say their livelihoods have been destroyed.

Foundry worker.

The iron casting company went into receivership on 18 December, leaving about 90 workers out in the cold. Photo: 123rf.com

MFL Ltd went into receivership on 18 December, leaving about 90 workers out in the cold.

Pati Pele was 23 years old when he began working for the Mt Wellington iron casting company as a machine moulder.

He said he climbed the foundry ranks to furnaceman over 30 years, but his career was now in tatters after he was made redundant.

"It's not very good because my whole life was over there, everything that I've had. I was doing alright there and now it's all a mess. My other workmates are worse off than me, the ones who have families."

Mr Pele said the news came as a shock.

His team celebrated the end of the year with a Christmas party before knocking off for the holidays.

It wasn't until a colleague driving past the foundry saw machinery getting stashed into containers that they realised something was wrong, he said.

"We had no idea, we were already on our holidays. It's a bit of a shock, especially hearing from them if we could all come back early to start back to work early and then finding out that we were actually closing down."

MFL, formerly known as Masport Foundries, made precision iron castings and alloy products, which were sold here and overseas.

It had been trading for more than 100 years and though Mr Pele said he was in line for a $200,000 redundancy payout, he doesn't think he'll see a cent.

Despite this, he said he counts himself lucky that he doesn't have a family to support - like his former colleague Dave Mukherjee.

Mr Mukherjee started with MFL six years ago. He has a family with two boys and a mortgage.

The 63-year-old said he feared he would not be able to find another job.

"What's happened in the company is absolutely immoral and unethical. They let off 85 employees just like that and they didn't even give a second thought to the welfare of all these employees."

Director of Challenge Partners, which owns MFL, Paul Ayres said he felt bad for the men.

"I feel awful about it. We've been facing this risk for the past two years, since things started going wrong.

"We've sat there late at night and thought horribly about people going home and saying they can't put food on the table.

"To be honest I think most people would have given up this fight quite some time ago ... but that was the biggest thing going through our minds and that's why we carried on, literally, until the 11th hour."

He said the company had been dogged by the significant risks since they took it on in 2014.

Every effort was made to save the company but the weak New Zealand dollar - combined with plant failures and customer losses - forced it into receivership, he said.

Mr Ayres said the company's struggle was no secret but they trudged on with the hope that things would be better.

"Sometimes when you're very close, and in the past two years we've been as close three or four times but managed to find a way or had reason to think next month would be better, if you go and tell everybody it will definitely go wrong, there's no doubt about it.

"Sometimes you have to keep that to yourself so that confidence remains in the organisation."