Geelong laundry workers hung out to dry

Laundry service LinenCare will close by June 30, making 94 workers unemployed.

Following the announcements of the closure of Ford, Alcoa and Target’s head office, workers in the Geelong region have been dealt another blow.

Barwon Health, now one of the largest employers in the Geelong region, announced on May 29 that its laundry service LinenCare would close by June 30, making 94 workers unemployed.

Barwon Health has operated LinenCare since 1965 and provides about 51 tons of laundry a week to about 100 customers, including hotels, nursing and aged care residential facilities. Barwon Health’s acute, rehabilitation and aged care service is its biggest customer. LinenCare has been one of Barwon Health’s most profitable arms for many years

However, LinenCare is housed in a run-down, possibly asbestos-laden building, with out-of-date equipment requiring high levels of maintenance. Barwon Health spokesman Perry Muncaster said the decision to close the laundry was made after a review of options, including independent advice from Ernst & Young.

“The laundry needs significant investment of roughly $11 million to modernise its plant and equipment in order to continue to operate,’’ Muncaster said. “As a health service, Barwon Health must prioritise investment in core health and medical infrastructure and is unable to allocate the funds LinenCare requires.’’

Barwon Health said the laundry service would transfer to Eureka Linen, operated by Ballarat Health Services, from July 1.

The 94 workers at LinenCare, most of whom are women, are devastated by the news and the way it has been managed by Barwon Health.

Geelong Trades Hall Secretary Tim Gooden said someone must have seen the closure coming 12 months ago.

“It’s either deceitful or it’s incompetence", Gooden said. “To break this news to the workers at LinenCare only 30 days before its proposed closure only shows contempt and lack of respect for these workers, some of who have worked at LinenCare for more than 20 years.”

A LinenCare worker who is set to lose her job said the business was profitable and competitive, until about a year or so ago when it increased its prices per item, presumably to cover maintenance costs. This made the business less competitive and resulted in the loss of many customers.

Questions need to be asked, such as why Barwon Health has not invested the profits from this service back into the business and modernised equipment or maintained the infrastructure over the years instead of allowing it to run down.

The Health Workers Union has called on Health Minister Jill Hennessy and local Labor MP Christine Couzens to intervene. There was a protest on June 4 outside the McKellar Centre where LinenCare is located.

Despite this, the state Labor government has ruled out providing any extra funding to enable the laundry to remain open, and said it was up to Barwon Health how it managed its funds.

But LinenCare workers said that work had already been shifted to the Ballarat based laundry and did not see any hope in a change of heart by Barwon Health before LinenCare finally closes on June 30.

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