Pacific Brands cuts 1850 jobs

February 28, 2009

Pacific Brands — manufacturer of Bonds, Yakka, King Gee and other clothing brands — has decided to close a number of smaller brands and restructure its business, with the slashing of 1850 jobs over the next 18 months across Australia.

"This is a devastating blow to these workers, their families, this industry and Australia", Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) national secretary Michele O'Neil said on February 25.

"We are not talking just the 1850 jobs losses announced today, the likely spin off effect on suppliers and other companies in the industry could well see thousands more jobs lost", O'Neil said.

Pacific Brands cried poor after posting a half-yearly loss of almost $150 million. The loss, however, comes on the back of almost $330 million of profits over the last three years.

In addition, the company has received handouts from the Australian government, amounting to $17.6 million. "This includes $9 million in '07-'08 and $8.6 million in '05-'06 of taxpayers' money", O'Neil said.

Pacific Brands's senior management also awarded themselves a significant pay rise in 2008, increasing their combined salaries from $7 million to $15 million. CEO Sue Morphet's pay increased from less than $700,000 by almost $1 million a year.

The TCFUA has rejected the right of the company to arbitrarily close sites with massive job losses. "The union does not accept that the complete closure of these sites is necessary. A number of the brands and divisions of this business continue to be profitable whilst manufacturing in Australia", O'Neil said.

"I have today spoken to the industry minister Kim Carr and he has agreed to participate in urgent discussions with the company aimed at saving jobs", O'Neil said. "I call on Pacific Brands to genuinely participate in such a discussion".

"The majority of the workers employed by this company are migrant women who have long years of service, their prospects of finding alternative work in the current economic crisis are grim", O'Neil continued.

She called on the federal government to implement an industry assistance package for the industry as a whole.

Momentum for a campaign to save the Pacific Brands workers' jobs is growing. Transport Workers Union national secretary, Tony Sheldon, has said that the union would place a ban on the removal of machinery from Pacific Brands sites. The Maritime Union of Australia has stated its refusal to remove Pacific Brands equipment should it reach the docks, according to the February 27 Sydney Morning Herald.

In the wake of public outrage, a February 28 AAP report revealed that the company would "reconsider" a federal government request to rethink sackings, according to industry minister Kim Carr.

Of the 1850 jobs to be lost, 281 will go in Wollongong. Illawarra Socialist Alliance convenor Chris Williams condemned Pacific Brands' actions. "This decision is heartless and shameful", he told Green Left Weekly.

"If the politicians seriously care about the workers they will take immediate action: not just express disappointment, but ensure these workers aren't forced onto the dole queues", Williams said.

"Given the $17 million in taxpayer assistance, the government is effectively a part-owner of this company", Williams continued. "It should demand the factories stay open and that the books be opened to workers and the community. If the company refuses it should be placed in public hands and the jobs of workers guaranteed.

"This is another case of working people paying for a crisis they didn't create. It's the consequences of a system that puts the needs of profits ahead of jobs and people's lives", Williams said.

"But enough is enough. Governments have bailed out banks and multinational corporations; now it's time to step up and support those who actually deserve it — the workers who are the victims of the crisis", Williams concluded.

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