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Six of the best for axed Ford workers

Line off: Six Ford production workers will get a memento of their time with the company when a brace of Falcon XR6s are dished out to staff Golden Ticket holders in a bitter-sweet end to production at Broadmeadows and Geelong on Friday.

‘Golden Ticket’ draw for six final Falcons set to ease worker pain at Ford

1 Oct 2016

SIX of the 740 remaining Ford workers facing the chop when the company’s Australian plants close on Friday will be sent off with more than a redundancy package when the company holds a last-day Golden Ticket giveaway of half a dozen identical Falcon XR6 sedans for manufacturing employees.

The Willy Wonka-style lucky draw is part of Ford’s attempt to inject some joy into a dreadful time for many of the long-serving staff – the final day of Ford production after 91 years of continuous vehicle manufacturing in Australia.

The FG X Falcons – all in an appropriate blue hue – will be among the last of more than three million of that particular breed produced through seven generations at the Broadmeadows plant since it was opened by then prime minister Robert Menzies in 1960.

Ford is also planning farewell dinners for valued employees as production of the Falcon and Territory winds down this week behind closed gates at the Geelong and Broadmeadows plants in Victoria.

The once-mighty Ford Australia production system that produced 520 vehicles a day at its two-shift peak in the 1980s and ’90s – even 700 with overtime – is now running at little more than 80 vehicles a day.

Although the media will be excluded from the plants as they grind to a halt and workers are farewelled, reporters were granted interviews with some current and former workers ahead of the event that marks the start of the end of mass car assembly in Australia, with Holden and Toyota set to follow Ford out of the country next year.

The longest-serving employee still on the Ford books, Broadmeadows factory process engineer Richard Zabielski – a 46-year veteran who started with Ford in 1970 as an apprentice on $18 a week – echoed the sentiment of most when he told GoAuto that he was sad that the end had come, but that it had not been a surprise.

“We felt this was going to happen, but we just did not know exactly when,” he said.

Mr Zabielski, one of many Ford employees who followed their father or other family members into the Blue Oval workforce, said Ford had done the right thing by giving staff three years’ notice of the closure, even helping workers who wanted to exit early.

He said the company had also transferred as many workers as possible from the closing factories to the growing vehicle development operation that will make Ford the biggest automotive employer in Australia once Holden and Toyota pull out of manufacturing in a year’s time.

At 62, Mr Zabielski regards himself as one of the lucky ones, able to retire with the help of his redundancy package.

Likewise, Croatian-born Boris Zoroje, 59, a senior process coach at the Broadmeadows plant, is looking forward to holidays on the road with his wife in Australia and the United States.

But he says he would have preferred the legacy of Australian vehicle manufacturing to have lived on.

Mr Zoroje said 40 years of vehicle manufacturing had left him with a love for the industry – “something that I would have liked to leave to the next generation”.

“I am one of the fortunate ones who can retire, but a lot of young workers could have made a good living out of this,” he said.

Several workers expressed disappointment in the federal government’s lack of effort to keep the industry operating, saying that open-slather imports basically wrote the death warrant for manufacturing companies such as Ford Australia.

However, most also went out of their way to praise Ford for its efforts to ease the pain for its workers by bringing in out-placement consultants to prepare workers for job hunting, organising job seeking operations, as well as finding 157 new non-manufacturing jobs internally for workers.

Union shop steward Tony Casabene, whose day job is manufacturing team leader in charge of forklift operators in Broadmeadows Plant 2, said he could not fault the effort of Ford nor production workers in a difficult time.

He said that even though the end was nigh, when he walked into the plant before 7am to start his shift each day, he could hear production workers switching on machinery, anxious to get on with the job.

“They want to hit the targets,” he said. “It is still full steam ahead.”

Mr Casabene, whose brother Sam is Ford Asia-Pacific commodity purchasing director based in Thailand and whose sister Gayle Antony is global human resources general manager for Infiniti based in Hong Kong, is planning to revive one of his old skills, hairdressing, when he clocks off for the last time.

This time, however, he plans to take his trade on the road, to aged care facilities and retirement homes – places that frequently have trouble getting someone to give elderly people that feel-good hair treatment.

Before then, he has a job to do: his part of the plant has to stay on a few more days to churn out 4000 Falcon body parts such as bonnets for spare parts over the next decade.

“We have to do that now, because we won’t be here in 10 years,” he said.

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