Email, the job destroyer
by Tony Oldfield, union delegate, Meadowbank Email announced its intentions on Tuesday last week to sack 474 employees from its Hoover, Meadowbank factory in Sydney. Email wants to close the Meadowbank factory and move some of its production facilities for washing machines and clothes dryers to Beverley in South Australia, amounting to a net loss of 174 jobs. This comes after a series of sales and acquisitions in the Email group which have destroyed a large number of manufacturing jobs. Hoover workers have voted to fight the job losses and will campaign to save jobs. Multinational rationalisation Since 1954, the Hoover factory at Meadowbank has been manufacturing washing machines and other products. A subsidiary of the US company, Hoover, it merged with Chicago Pacific in 1985 and Maytag in 1989. In 1994, Hoover Australia, was to be listed as a public company with a six- monthly operating profit of $8,850,000. This sparked a fight between Email and Southcorp, two of Australia's largest white goods manufacturers for a commercial sale. Both were eager to strengthen their market share and further monopolise the whitegoods industry. By December 1994, Southcorp announced a successful bid to buy Hoover, Australia. In March, 1996, Southcorp began a big rationalisation, sacking workers in maintenance, stores, administration and supervision at the Hoover factory. At the same time, Southcorp was announcing a big increase in their share price. In April, 1999, the sale of Southcorp Appliances, including Hoover, Dishlex and Chef, was official with Email now obtaining a conservative 60 per cent share of the Ausralian white goods market. A black day for all Australian workers. Uncovering the myth Both Southcorp and Email have been claiming for some time that the Hoover factory at Meadowbank has been losing money, that it is unproductive and inefficient. They claim the loss is about $9 million per year. Prior to the Southcorp buy out, Hoover Australia operated as a US subsidiary with its own administration, sales and marketing, large maintenance and engineering departments, a service division and a much larger production workforce. At this time, in the early '90s, Hoover was making healthy profits, as a result of investment in new technology and machinery through the late '80s, followed by a big drive towards quality improvement combined with a very flexible workforce. After the Southcorp takeover, a culture of fear was introduced based on a widespread campaign to strip all the indirect labour from the workforce, and a myth that the factory was inefficient and unproductive. Every month it was reported the factory was losing $1 million or more. Morale at the factory went into a downward spiral. This was followed by decisions to stop production of barrel and upright vacuum cleaners, next was the end of the front loader washing machine. Vacuum cleaners and front loaders were replaced with imported products, the plastic moulding production was contracted out, the factory was being stripped of production, volume and jobs. A cost reduction campaign followed with good quality components being replaced by inferior cheap components and a complete breakdown of any real preventative maintenance program, which gave way to a large number of machine and equipment breakdowns. The reality, rather than the myth, was the Hoover Meadowbank site was being run into the ground by corporate decisions. If Email's decision to shut the factory and relocate washing machine and dryer production to South Australia is accepted, it will be the death of good quality whitegoods manufacturing in Australia. More jobs threatened A large number of small and medium sized manufacturing companies supply Hoover with components, from plastics companies, to electrical manufacturers and small engineering works; all depend on continued manufacturing at Hoover for jobs. The roll-on effect would mean that if Hoover closes its gates a total of 1,000 jobs could be lost to the community. Media manipulation Email's public relations department has used the media very well, with its sizeable advertising budget it brought the dreaded Telegraph and Channel 7's Today Tonight program into the factory with a pre-written script of doom and gloom and presented the factory's closure as a fait accompli. Any workers with a different perspective or a union view were not reported. However, some sections of the media, in particular talk-back radio and the ABC, have been good in covering all sides of the story. The Executioner Southcorp and Email have been up-front about their intentions to rationalise the whitegoods appliance industry and reduce jobs. Even so, the Liberal Federal Government and the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, led by the notorious Professor Alan Fels, have acted as the executioner of Hoover jobs, giving Email permission to purchase Hoover from Southcorp with the full knowledge that Email's intentions were to monopolise the Australian appliance industry. This decision came on top of widespread speculation that Fisher and Paykel, the only remaining whitegoods manufacturer, wants to shed its appliance business. With Email the only interested party in the purchase of Fisher and Paykel's Queensland factory, Email would be a single monopoly player in whitegoods in Australia, and probably in New Zealand. This would allow them tremendous power in price fixing and control of the Ausralian market. Devastating impact Email's sales and acquisitions have had a devastating impact on the manufacturing industry and a massive loss of jobs. Through the 1980s Email left behind it a trail of job losses and factory closures — all a part of government policy to rationalise the whitegoods industry from 16 manufacturers to three. The position now is likely to be one whitegoods manufacturer: Email. Email in recent times has sold its industrial air-conditioning plant, Mullers, at Kingsgrove with job losses, its kitchen appliances, Fred Clarke, with job losses and is trying to sell Dorf in Victoria. Part of the Southcorp sale of Hoover to Email was an agreement that Southcorp would close the Hoover refrigeration plant at Clayton in Victoria. Everywhere we look, Email's record spells massive job losses with many workers becoming permanently unemployed, part-time workers, or forced into early retirement. Defending jobs Stop work meetings of Email workers have been held across NSW, at Hoover (Meadowbank); Element and Tube (Botany); Gas Meters (Waterloo); Distribution (Riverwood); Bisalloy (Unanderra); and at Refrigeration (Orange). Stop work meetings of all Email workers have passed resolutions condemning management for their decision to close Hoover and supporting the retention of jobs. A national meeting of Email union delegates, convened in Sydney last week, called for a halt to job losses and asked for the support of Email workers in South Australia. Email workers are being called on to give support to an industrial campaign. Community campaign Hoover workers need the support of the wider community and pressure on the NSW Government to save manufacturing jobs. A public campaign to shame Email, with posters, badges, a leaflet and press releases to local media and community groups is being planned. A boycott of Email products and letters to Email Corporate are an effective way individuals can express their support. For every job lost at Hoover, there is a flow-on effect in the local community, we need to take a stand against job losses now. You can write a protest letter to: Chief Executive Officer EMAIL CORPORATE Mr RG Waters Joynton Avenue Waterloo, NSW 2017 or fax: (02) 9699-3190.