Positive outlook as Summit employment ends

The last shift-workers leave the Summit Wool Spinners' employees' car park yesterday afternoon. Photo by David Bruce.
The last shift-workers leave the Summit Wool Spinners' employees' car park yesterday afternoon. Photo by David Bruce.
As shift workers at the Summit Wool Spinners plant in Oamaru clocked off for the final time yesterday, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) said it was well placed to help them find new employment - and job offers are already being made.

The plant will not officially cease operating on the site until today, but wool spinners made redundant following the sale of the plant finished up yesterday.

Shortly before and after 5pm, the last few employees left alone or in pairs. The employees' car park on Weaver St used to be full at that time of day with the changes in shifts - at 4.30pm yesterday there were 11 cars there.

Most workers did not want to stop to talk to the Otago Daily Times, and those who did would not give their names. They said it was a sad day, with only a handful of staff in the last shift.

One man said the plant had been a major part of Oamaru's employment structure for decades, members of the family having worked there for generations.

Another man was confident there would be something on the site in the future.

''It [the mill] has been there for more than 130 years, survived two world wars and a depression,'' he said.

Social development labour market manager Emma Hamilton said employers in Oamaru, and across the Canterbury and Otago regions had already made inquiries about the availability of Summit employees.

Ms Hamilton said only a ''small number'' of employees had so far registered with Winz, but more were expected to register once they received their final pay cheque.

She said a dedicated resource centre had also been established in Oamaru to deal with the expected influx of inquiries from redundant workers and ensure a ''smooth transition into other employment.

''Our staff are keeping in regular contact with the Summit management in order to streamline suitable vacancies so that they are able to quickly advise staff, and we have one full time work-broker matching Summit workers to suitable job offers as they become available.

''The Canterbury Jobs Hub is listing between six and eight new jobs every day, and have approximately 230 jobs available. Our team is working with a local training provider ... to provide some targeted assistance specifically for Summit staff, if required.''

She said there were about 20 positions available in the Oamaru area.

Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton said he had been ''very impressed'' with the response from the ministry.

''The MSD have prepared themselves very well. In the first instance they had meetings with up to 70 affected staff just to begin to get an expectation about what the possible options should be.''

Mr Familton said the ministry would offer ''across the board'' assistance to affected workers''. First Union textiles secretary Paul Watson said both Mr Familton and the union had been in contact with the ministry to seek funding for an additional support programme.

''The union is also committed to establishing ongoing support for all redundant workers by working with the mayor of Waitaki District to establish a redundancy support programme that offers additional support than that offered by government agencies. This approach has worked well in previous redundancies in the textiles sector ...''

He added that the union also had collective employment agreements at other Godfrey Hirst and Canterbury Spinners work sites, and had been in regular contact with the company.

''Obviously we would want to see the establishment of long-term employment security for those offered jobs and more will emerge on this point in the near future.''

However, workers still had no certainly about their futures, he said.

''Summit made a significant contribution to Oamaru. It has long been the town's major employer. Its closure is a very painful one for its workforce and their families.

''That there is still no certainty on the future of the plant under Canterbury Spinners makes it more difficult for the workers and the community.''

- andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz