Two hundred workers and supporters protested outside the Pacific Brands factory in Wentworthville, Western Sydney on March 6 in response to the clothing company's plans to slash 1850 jobs around the country.
Thi Nyuen, a worker at Pacific Brands for 20 years, told Green Left Weekly that workers felt betrayed by the company, which has received more than $17 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies and awarded its executives huge pay rises — including to more than $1.8 million for CEO Sue Morphett.
"It's like they only care about money, not people", Nyuen said.
Many workers told GLW they felt nervous about the future. Dianne Green, Textile Clothing Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) delegate and a worker at the Pacific Brands factory for 15 years, explained: "Everybody is under so much pressure inside here. Nobody knows if they are going to be made redundant, what day they will close the doors, or anything.
"There was some pressure on the workers not to participate in today's protest. We were told it was going to be a boycott campaign and this frightened the girls. Today, we were told by the union that it was not a boycott campaign but a protest, so the girls decided they would come out."
Green said the TCFUA wanted to ensure workers received their full entitlements if their jobs were slashed. "We've got a lady who has been working here for 42 years. That's a long time and there is a lot of money involved. If she was going to lose all that, she'd be devastated, as we all would. We've all got mortgages to pay and car loans and things."
Mary, the worker who has been at the factory for 42 years, told GLW: "Everyone's upset. We can't believe its happening. We're scared we are going to lose our redundancy. The shares have gone down to nothing. This morning I went to check and they were no longer even displayed. So we are all scared.
"I'm in my 60s and I've been working here for 42 years. I started here as a teenager. I'm on my own. I haven't got a husband to support me. I was hoping to work a few more years."
Contingents from a number of unions including the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Energy Union, Maritime Union of Australia, the NSW Nurses' Association, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Australian Licensed Engineers Association (ALEA), as well as students, turned out to support the workers.
Unions called on the company to reverse its decision, with officials from the TWU and the ALEA declaring they would black-ban any attempt to transport equipment and machinery offshore.
However, many workers also signed a petition calling for Pacific Brands to be nationalised without compensation to large shareholders, the retention of all jobs and that the company be contracted to produce clothing for all government purposes.
On the same day in Melbourne, 300 people rallied outside the Bourke Street Mall Myers store, including people from many different unions. Peter Marshall, national secretary of the United Firefighters Union, addressed the crowd.
Referring to Pacific Brands being the manufacturer of firefighters' uniforms, he said, "we worked for five years to get better uniforms for our members. … the heartache [caused by the Victorian bushfires] we've experienced over last two weeks is only exacerbated by sacking [Pacific Brands] workers. It is disrespectful to emergency services workers who have protected you."