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Ex Ford Aus employees face tough job reality

New start: Some former employees from the old Ford engine plant in Geelong have found finding a new job difficult.

Pay cuts and long commutes issues for ex-Ford Australia employees

Ford logo13 Dec 2016

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

JUST over 35 per cent of Ford Australia workers made redundant at the company’s Broadmeadows manufacturing plant remain out of work eight weeks after its closure, with data from employment centres revealing workers have declined to accept pay cuts of up to one-third within alternate industries.

GoAuto has also learned that several employees from Ford Australia’s Geelong plant have been reluctant to travel to work in other booming areas within Victoria as the federal government-funded Auto Skills Australia (ASA) continues its Ford Transition Program (FTP) until April 30, 2017.

In an interview with GoAuto, FTP project co-ordinator Vince Panozzo said he was “optimistic” about the remaining Ford Australia employees finding work but he also was concerned about the limited number of supply chain workers participating in the find-work program.

Since the October 7 closure date, the outreach centres in Broadmeadows and Geelong have had 1087 visitations from the 400 and 200 workers made redundant at each manufacturing site respectively. Only 59 of those visitations have been from the supply chain.

“Even allowing for double-ups, if every (Ford Australia ex-employee) has been through twice that is still 500 people,” Mr Panozzo said.

“Some people have been in once, some people have been in multiple times, but it’s an indication that the outreach centre is actually working as a mechanism to connect people to services.”

He added, however: “There’s only 59 (visitations) from the supply chain, which is incorporated in that, so it’s a very low number of participants from the supply network, which is problematic.

“We can influence but we can’t control the supply workers as they’re going through because, although they were offered the information sessions from auto skills, it wasn’t always taken up. That’s a bit of a concern.”

The full extent of job losses from industries that provided parts to Ford will not be known until the closure of Holden and Toyota factories next year, given that many parts-makers share output between the car brands.

While Mr Panozzo declined to provide numerical data from the Geelong outreach centre, insisting the numbers were particularly “fluid”, he revealed that of the 400 redundant Broadmeadows employees, 145 remained looking for work, 109 had found work, 34 people retired, seven withdrew from the outreach centre and the remainder did not participate in the program.

“We’ve still got just under 50 per cent who are still looking for work and are quite active in looking for work,” he said.

“I’m very optimistic that we will reach a really good end game here for the workers providing they want to work.”

A major issue for manufacturing workers at both sites concerns the drop in wages moving from the “lucrative” new-vehicle manufacturing industry to others such as the food industry, according to Mr Panozzo.

“(The) challenge workers have got is pay points, and this is common because they have been in a very lucrative market – Ford, Holden, Toyota, the supply chain,” he explained.

“Now to move into the open market and reduce their hourly rate from $28-30 per hour for a production worker down to $18-23 per hour in the different industries they’re looking at (such as) food manufacturing … we’ve had a lot of people who accept that and will say, ‘Yes, I’m prepared to go into that lower rate than what Ford was paying.’ “But we’ve also got people who are waiting for a higher pay point, and I get that.

“We did communicate that very heavily during the project: don’t expect to get the same pay rate as what you’re getting here, because the market is just not paying that.”

Mr Panozzo added that the location of new work was less of an issue for Broadmeadows employees – who were geographically closer to the booming work in Melbourne’s western suburbs – than those in Geelong.

“It is a bit more challenging in Geelong, particularly if people are not willing to travel,” he said.

“We have a lot of opportunities in the western suburbs (of Melbourne) and at this point in time the workers are … not still quite ready to make that travel commitment. We have lots of opportunities in the metro area.”

Mr Panozzo listed the situation of having a number of people out of work in a smaller city as “concerning”, however he was confident the situation would improve. He gave an example of two ex-Ford Australia workers from Geelong last week having job interviews in Laverton, 54km away.

Mr Panozzo said work will continue around equipping Ford employees – many of whom had been with the company for “20, 30, 40 years” – with greater literacy, numeracy and digital skills, and he praised Ford Australia for its “fantastic” contribution to the program.

In addition to injecting $10 million into the Victorian government’s job-creation program, Ford Australia also permitted employees to re-skill during work time in the lead up to the closure.

Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman has in the past two months visited the outreach centres twice, he revealed during his first media appearance since the October 7 closure.

“We had October the 7th but nothing stops there,” he said, speaking at the national media launch of the Ford Everest 4x2 in Melbourne earlier this month.

“I popped down there to both centres and had a look at what’s going on and more importantly how we’re measuring up to what we set out to do.

“We had hundreds of registrations into those outreach centres the very next week … the ASA (Automotive Skills Australia) are the official body now that have the official care of those employees, even though they’re our employees, so there’s a relationship there.

“When I sat in Geelong, I chatted with union officials, I chatted with employees, I chatted with job placement, I chatted with ASA … so it’s a collective effort.

“Employees who come in get counselling if they want counselling, they can get job assistance if they want job assistance, they can get training advice if they want to do that. So when I was there I asked the question if, okay, tell me more about job placements and registrations and people who have gone to … myriad different things.”

Mr Whickman said Ford Australia’s continued presence in the process of finding its employees new work was crucial, “otherwise we wouldn’t have honoured what we set out to do”.

Asked to reflect on how Ford Australia’s handling of the local manufacturing closure was perceived inside and outside the company, Mr Whickman added: “I would say … I think that we’re satisfied with how we treated our staff.

“Our measurement isn’t so much around what has happened externally, our measurement is around how we conducted ourselves. It’s not all over on that day, it can’t be. I’m proud at the efforts people put in and the feedback from employees was a mixture of pride, of gratitude, but at the same time it was an emotional time.”

Beyond the 600 redundancies in October, Ford Australia has re-deployed 160 manufacturing staff into product development or other roles, while a further 120 will perform temporary roles with prototype vehicle builds and plant decommissioning until next year.

The company claims that by late 2017 it will become Australia’s largest automotive employer with 2000 team members including 1100-plus designer and engineers working on new global models at the Product Development Centre in Broadmeadows, Geelong Research and Development Centre and 950-hectare Lara Proving Ground.

Ford Australia’s peak employment year was 1977 with 14,700 staff.

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