Workers reeling as wool mill plans to axe 50 jobs

By Christine McKay


A worker at Godfrey Hirst's Canterbury Spinners woollen mill has labelled the company as "bloody pathetic" in light of the news 50 jobs are going to be lost.

Company spokesman Geoff Senescall confirmed 50 staff of 80 at the Dannevirke plant were told yesterday they would lose their jobs because the company needed to downscale. It will scale back its carpet production by cutting out the yarn and spinning operations and the remaining 30 staff will work in the dyeing operations.

For staff at the mill, news of the job losses came as a body blow.

The employee, who didn't want to be identified, said workers at the plant were reeling after being told yesterday morning of the redundancies.

"They [Godfrey Hirst] expect us to work on as though nothing has happened for the next two months. It'll be like living in limbo. This company is bloody pathetic," he said. "They're leaving the dye-house open, but everything else will be gone."

Godfrey Hirst's public relations spokesman Geoff Senescall said from a company point of view, the job losses were "regrettable".

"The decision reflects the continuing challenging environment in the marketplace for woollen carpets," he said.

"Synthetics are taking market share. Godfrey Hirst remains a good, strong business, but if demand isn't there, the company has to cut its cloth to suit.

"Unfortunately, the plant in Dannevirke is a semi-worsted process, which is quite limiting and not flexible," he said.

The company's proposal is now out for consultation. If it goes ahead the job losses would take place by the end of September, and the company is proposing remaining staff move on to a shift pattern with reduced hours.

Tararua District Mayor Roly Ellis met with Godfrey Hirst management yesterday afternoon.

"This is just another sinker for our town," Mr Ellis said. "It's unbelievable when at one point the company was talking about expansion at the plant."

However, Mr Ellis said he understood the market forces which were affecting the carpet industry around the world.

"Our high New Zealand dollar doesn't help exporters either," he said.

"And I believe Godfrey Hirst have tried hard, but only the dye-house is a cost-effective operation."

Yesterday's crushing news came just 12 months after Godfrey Hirst asked for 12 staff to put their hands up for voluntary redundancy.

At that time, a spokesperson for the company said the economic climate had been challenging and the future prospects for the company depended on the future of the world economy. Four years earlier 10 staff also lost their jobs.

First Union textiles secretary Paul Watson acknowledged the Dannevirke community had been hit hard by the news of redundancies at one of the town's major employers.

"The move represents further rationalisation in the textiles sector and was deeply distressing for the skilled workforce in Dannevirke," Mr Watson said.

"A priority for the union will be minimising the impact on staff and outstanding issues for further discussion include voluntary redundancies, relocation opportunities and ensuring workers' income is protected as new shifts are introduced.

"We will also look for support to establish a redundancy support co-ordinator to work alongside staff made redundant to help with training and finding other jobs."

Speaking on behalf of the Dannevirke Chamber of Commerce, businessman Suresh Patel said the news was devastating for the families of the workers at Godfrey Hirst.

"I really feel sorry for those who relocated here from Christchurch following the earthquake," he said.

"They stayed and built a new future here and also purchased property.

"But five years ago, Dannevirke lost 500 jobs when the freezing works at Oringi closed and we survived. Dannevirke is resilient and Oringi was a classic case of how we all stuck together and got through."

Mr Patel said the loss of 50 jobs would be tough for Dannevirke, but he was confident other opportunities would arise.

"I'm sure we'll bounce back from this, we just have to stay positive," he said.

"We learnt a lot from the closure of Oringi and we need to be smart and positive and work hard to create job opportunities here in Dannevirke.

"Our town is a fantastic place to live and I know a lot of people prefer to live here and travel to Palmerston North for work."

Mr Patel said he felt for those staff who have spent a large part of their working lives at the woollen mills.

"We've survived before and we will again. The people here won't let Dannevirke die. We're lucky we've a great little community," he said.

 



  • Yesterday's announcement at Dannevirke follows last year's closure of Norman Ellison Carpet's spinning plant in Onehunga with 85 job losses, and 190 redundancies at Summit Wool Spinners in Oamaru this year. CSL purchased the Oamaru site and re-employed 60 workers.


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