25 jobs saved, 25 redundant

Peter O'Brien.
Peter O'Brien.
Twenty-five people have lost their jobs at Mosgiel benchtop manufacturer O'Brien Group.

The factory was bought by Fletcher Building in 2006 and has just been sold back to the O'Brien family.

All 50 staff at the factory were made redundant on Friday, with 25 immediately offered jobs under the O'Brien ownership.

The job losses are the latest in a slew of southern redundancies, which include 90 job losses at Hillside engineering workshops in Dunedin last week and more than 200 redundancies from Alliance's Mataura meatworks.

Neither the purchase price in mid-2006 nor the sell-back price have been disclosed.

Fletcher Building general manager for investor relations, Philip King, said in a statement yesterday Fletcher had sold the O'Brien Group to O'Brien Benchtops Ltd.

"All 50 employees of the O'Brien Group have been made redundant, effective date November 23," Mr King said.

O'Brien's Benchtops Ltd changed its name on November 23 to Owns the Assets Ltd. Its directors are Barry O'Brien, Margaret O'Brien, Peter O'Brien and Phillip O'Brien, all of Mosgiel, according to Companies Office records.

Peter O'Brien said yesterday it was his understanding more jobs would have been lost had the family not bought the business back.

The family's intention was to grow the business, which could mean the creation of more jobs in the future.

Asked why all 50 staff could not be employed, Mr O'Brien said: "It's pretty tough. We just went with what we thought would work. Down the line we may have to employ more; we hope we do. We have just got to see if it's going to make money first."

He did not envisage the factory returning to its "glory days" any time soon, but hoped the business would grow to a "good size that is sustainable".

As part of the purchase, the factory had been merged with Otago Bench Top Specialists, which was also owned by the O'Briens, with its eight staff now working from the factory in Mosgiel, making a total of 33 staff.

He said Fletcher Building initially approached his father, Barry O'Brien, about three or four months ago, asking if he was interested in buying back the business.

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Christie said the job losses were symptomatic of "just how tough the economy" had been over the last two or three years.

"It's just reflective of some of the changes we are going through and perhaps we will see some ... [more job losses] yet to come.

"It's never welcome, but we have got to remember that sometimes those cuts are necessary to ensure the long-term future of businesses."

There was "some job growth" in the local economy, which was promising for those out of a job, but it could still take some time for them to find new employment.

Mosgiel-Taieri Community Board chairman Bill Feather said the job losses came at a particularly tough time after the redundancies at Hillside and with Christmas just around the corner.

The job losses were something Mosgiel "could do without" and it was of concern that some of those out of a job would likely have to move away to find work.

However, Mr Feather hoped the O'Brien family could turn the business around and bring some jobs back to the town.

Mr King said the O'Brien sale follows a review of Fletcher's Laminex group and was "in line with the company's strategy to streamline its product offering and divest non-core assets" .

Fletcher, New Zealand's largest listed company, has until recently been underperforming as the rebuilding of Christchurch was slow to take off, and a positive outlook given recently remains highly dependent on economic conditions in Australia.

The O'Brien Group was founded by Barry and Helen O'Brien in 1979, in recent years employing 150 to 180 people at times. The company at present has branches in Christchurch, Mosgiel and Invercargill, having had up to seven branches six years ago.

Under Fletchers, the O'Brien Group was part of the wider Laminex Group and specialised in high pressure laminate and solid surface products, including Corian and Compact Laminate.


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