Wool factory staff shattered by loss of jobs

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2013
Sharon Solomon
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
EMOTIONAL: Sharon Solomon, the head Summit Wool Spinners delegate with First Union, says Oamaru will be hit hard by the job losses.

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Palpable fear and sadness grips the South Island town of Oamaru as 192 people face up to a future riddled with uncertainty after losing their jobs.

The redundancies at the Japanese-owned Summit Wool Spinners will deliver a "devastating" blow to the town, Waitaki District Mayor Alex Familton told The Press.

The workers, and their families, may now leave, imparting a knock-on economic blow to the town of about 13,000 people.

"It will be a very trying time ...  It is on people's minds, they are talking about it and the reactions are ranging from disbelief to concern to real devastation."

Familton spoke to some affected families yesterday and said they are already considering leaving Oamaru.

"In some cases it is quite traumatic ... one is [already] considering selling their house," Familton said.

The "resilient" spirit of the town's residents would, however, serve up a reminder to the workers that they could forge a future in Oamaru.

Sharon Solomon, an operator and delegate for First Union, was one of several workers visibly upset after a meeting with Summit Wool Spinners representatives yesterday.

"I'm pretty devastated. There are whole families working here."

There simply would not be enough work in Oamaru for nearly 200 people, forcing some into an unwelcome early retirement, she said.

While she hoped to find work with Godfrey Hirst, the group buying up Summit Wool Spinners, a move to Christchurch was possible.

John Gardner, lead organiser with Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), said many of Summit's employees had worked at the site for more than 25 years. Some had known no other job.

"For some people it's been their parents' life and their life ... A lot of people will leave the district."

Already there was a sense of anger, apprehension and fear among the workers.

The fear will not subside, he believes.

Early indications, he said, are Canterbury Spinners, the Godfrey Hirst subsidiary buying the plant, would rehire only a "skeleton" crew, leaving a large number of people facing a future laced with uncertainty.

Familton said the local Work and Income New Zealand Office, the council and Summit would work closely with the workers. Likewise, the unions have organised assistance.

Meetings were held at the Summit plant yesterday with workers and their unions.

Another meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Canterbury Spinners lost its Christchurch factory in the February 2011 earthquake.

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On Thursday, Godfrey Hirst general manager Tania Pauling told The Press the Summit plant had been on the market for two years, and it was obvious her company was the only potential buyer.

"With us buying it, there's the opportunity that it may continue in some form.

"If we hadn't bought it, it would probably have closed indefinitely," Pauling said.

- The Press

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