Despite devastation, community determined to support one another

Shock.

That was the response to news yesterday that more than 1000 jobs would go in Southland if the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter closes next year.

But despite the "devastation" Southland spirit remains strong.

Employess contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday would not talk on the record about the closure.

One said they were "unable" to discuss anything with the media due to their "current contract".

Another spoke on the condition of anonymity.

They said colleagues were shocked with the news the plant would close next year.

They had only worked there for six months following a career move and thought it would be a new opportunity for them.

A few days before the announcement, they were told a decision on the future was imminent.

"But we’ve heard that quite a few times already, to the point of where you thought a lot of it was just talk."

They were unsure of the process and what would happen over the next 14 months.

"There are a lot of guys just shy of retirement age ... what they’re going to do for jobs, who knows?

"Southland is a great place, but where do 1000 people all get jobs?"

Colleagues were devastated by the news but were supporting each other, they said.

Devastation, fear and trepidation were words being used across Invercargill yesterday as news spread.

But the overriding theme was resilience and supporting one another.

Southland lawyer Gareth Davis said there was a feeling of trepidation within the community.

"I don’t think it’s fear but there’s uncertainty as to what the future will look like."

He was confident Southlanders would rally to overcome what lay ahead.

"I dare say Southlanders will do what Southlanders have always done and get on with it."

Another concern was what the impact on Southland schools would be if the smelter closed.

Southland Primary School Association president Wendy Ryan said there had been an increase in Southland school rolls before Covid-19.

"Things had been looking pretty good, people have been seeing Invercargill as a great place to bring up their family."

If the smelter shut down, those rolls would drop and as a consequence resources, including funding, would be pulled from schools.

Post Primary Teachers’ Association regional chairman Bill Claridge, of Invercargill, said the main priority now was to support families and teachers affected by the closure.

"It’s devastating to hear the news. We are concerned about people and about futures."

"There are many teaching families where one person will be teaching and another will be working at the smelter. I know them personally."

Mechanisms were already in place to support members of the union, he said.

Both educational leaders said Southlanders would come through this.

"We are strong and we are resilient and we support each other and that is why we are still here," Mr Claridge said.

"We know how to act when the chips are down. When push comes to shove we know what to do in the response to a crisis.

"It will take more than the closing of an aluminium smelter to crush us — but we’d rather it didn’t [close]."

 

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