It was the end of an era in Wollongong this week, with the last of a series of clothing factories owned by Pacific Brands closing down. Nick McLaren spoke to some of the women who are now coming to terms with the loss of their jobs.
When the closure of Bonds’ Unanderra factory was announced nearly a year ago it came as a shock to many workers.
Forty-three-year-old Liz De Vulder says the news was devastating.
“It was like a death in the family for a lot of them. There’s ladies that have been here forty years,” Mrs De Vulder said.
“When they were told it was like someone passed away. Then [it was like we had] the funeral because it all sunk in and the last year has been the grieving.”
The mother of three has worked at the factory since the age of 14 and had planned to stay on another 25 years till her retirement.
She laments the end of an era, especially for those from a migrant background with poor English skills who traditionally find work in manufacturing.
“I feel for the generation that can’t read or speak English very well because they’re always going to be behind,” she said.
“They’ve got to learn to read and write before they can go out to the workforce, so it’s going to be harder for them.”
The closure of the Unanderra plant has led to retrenchments for all 207 employees.
The parent company Pacific Brands is also closing or has closed factories in Bellambi in northern Wollongong, Wentworthville and Cessnock also in New South Wales, West End in Queensland, and in Victoria Nunawading and Coolaroo.
By September this year the company will no longer manufacture clothing in Australia with the jobs moved offshore to China.
Pacific Brands Group General Manager Kate Hahn says the company has worked extensively with the Unanderra staff, fully funding training courses in areas such as computer and IT, aged care, hospitality and retail.
“This has been an extremely difficult period for all of our people and we will continue to work with them to ensure they are provided with the best possible support,” Ms Hahn said
Another retrenched worker, 61-year-old Mercedes Soldi, was first employed at a Bonds factory at Port Kembla in Wollongong in 1966.
Mrs Soldi says initially the staff were angry with the company for the closure, then their anger turned to the Federal Government for not doing more to save at least some of the jobs.
A year later and Mrs Soldi is now looking forward to what lies around the corner.
“They gave me the choice so I’m going back to TAFE to learn English and then I might be able to go into childcare or aged care. I love children,” she said.
Ana De Jesus, 30, is one of the lucky ones.
“I’ve got another job to go to. I’ll be doing cafe work,” she said.
For the moment Ms De Jesus says she experiencing conflicting feelings over the loss of the shared work experiences and friendships, tempered by new opportunities.
“I’ve got friends which are pretty distressed, which is normal for them because they’ve been here for many years. And others are excited because they are starting a new journey, so its mixed emotions.”