Workers across the country were outraged with the announcement in February that Pacific Brands plans to sack 1850 workers. Many joined the factory workers’ rallies in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to demand the company reverse the sackings.
The bosses’ greed is astounding. The company has taken $17 million in subsidies from the government in the last two years. CEO Sue Morphett almost tripled her own pay packet (from $685,775 to 1.86 million) during that time, and was awarded “incentive payments”—bonuses for axing jobs.
The 13 directors now get $15.5 million between them, an average of $924,000 each. Morphett has now hired a security guard to supervise her $2 million mansion while she proceeds with the sackings.
The announced closures have all the hallmarks of an asset stripping exercise that requires immediate intervention by the government. The company was taken over by private equity funds, backed by the Macquarie Bank, in 2001.
According to union sources in New Zealand, the private equity funds took $A100 million out in cash, loaded the company with debt and then sold it on the share market for $A1 billion. Now they are closing operations, lining their own pockets and selling off the brand names.
TCFUA delegate at the Pacific Brands Wentworthville factory, Jimmy, told Solidarity, “they were telling us a couple of months ago that they were running everything perfect. Now they turn around and shut the place. How can we trust them?… all they think is profit, profit, profit.”
The sackings can be stopped
A strong stand by Pacific Brands workers would win support right across the union movement and the wider community. Already the Transport Workers Union, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and the Maritime Union have said they will block any attempt to remove machinery from the closed factories.
Protests and industrial action can galvanise support.
The company will try to wear down and divide workers by offering voluntary redundancies, crying poor and threatening wider closures, but we can’t let their excuses hold us back.
If Pacific Brands threatens total closure, workers could consider occupying the factories. Workers at Waterford Glass in Ireland have been occupying their factory since January to prevent it being closed. Thousands of people in that city are supporting the occupying workers.
It is this kind of action that can force a stronger stand from Rudd and Gillard. The government must guarantee entitlements for every worker, but it should also take action to guarantee every job. We should demand that the company open its books to the government and the union, so we can know the truth about all its financial operations. If necessary the government should nationalise the company.
Some conservatives, like those at the Daily Telegraph, have tried to say that the fight at Pacific Brands is a fight to save “Aussie jobs”. But the truth is that the company is closing almost all its factories—in Australia, two in New Zealand and a major factory in China itself.
It is not Chinese workers who are cutting jobs. In fact Chinese workers are also fighting factory closures. It is industrial action, not “buying Australian” that can save jobs. We have a common fight, against the same Aussie bosses in Australia, New Zealand and China.
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions has sent a message of support to the TCFUA and the workers at Pacific Brands. It reads: “Workers should not be made to pay the bill of economic crisis. Workers must resist with all their strength. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions is determined to work alongside our members who are in this fight. You are not alone and we are not alone. In solidarity we will win.”
By Ian Rintoul