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Holden exit: Jimmy farewells workers

Dancing out the door: Holden workers partied to Jimmy Barnes after they downed tools for the last time at the Elizabeth plant in South Australia.

Cold Chisel singer Jimmy Barnes ends Holden era for factory workers

Holden logo20 Oct 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

WORKING class man Jimmy Barnes farewelled retrenched Holden workers at a private farewell party at the iconic Adelaide Oval today in an effort to turn a sad day for many into a celebration of the achievements of Holden and its employees over more than 160 years.

The former Cold Chisel front man and one-time resident of Elizabeth – the northern Adelaide suburb that was home to the Holden car factory until today – belted out his hits to the workers as the door banged shut on the Australian car industry.

Earlier, Holden chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard fielded questions from the media in front of the factory’s administration centre on Philip Highway, Elizabeth, around midday, as the retrenched workers were boarding a fleet of buses to take them to central Adelaide for the afternoon party that started at 1pm.

This meant that most of the workers were saved the indignity of being door-stopped by camera crews leaving the factory gates for the last time.

The party was strictly employees only, with management making every effort to keep media and other interlopers from intruding as the workers said their goodbyes with a little pizzazz.

And for many of the employees, it was not such a scary departure, as efforts to generate employment have to date been more successful than Holden human resources managers dared to hope.

The company established a Transition Centre in its administration offices at the Elizabeth factory to help workers find new jobs or settle into retirement or study.

According to Holden human resources director Jamie Getgood, more than 80 per cent of the 800 factory workers who had already left Holden since the closure of Australian manufacturing operations was announced in 2013 were no long seeking work.

He said that of those, 71 per cent had taken new jobs or founded their own businesses, eight per cent had retired and the remainder had gone on to study.

“There is a belief that we are going to be in a really tough position with jobs,” he said. “I don’t believe that is the case.” Mr Getgood said a number of businesses and government services which had already hired former Holden employees in a wide range of disciplines had come back asking for more.

“People are walking into great jobs,” he said, adding that the skills learned on the job at the factory had been a major contributor new jobs success.

Mr Getgood said the successful transition of workers into work outside Holden had helped contribute to a rising work satisfaction rate in the factory at a time when many people expected morale to collapse.

Production quality was the best in General Motors and worker attendance was at an historic high of 96 per cent in 2016 – figures Mr Getgood described as “absolutely incredible” in any manufacturing plant, let alone one facing closure.

Elizabeth had won GM’s best-plant trophy for safety in 2016, while also winning awards for cost reduction four years in a row.

“I don’t think there is a more dedicated and committed workforce than the one we have at Holden,” Mr Getgood said.

Each employee has been offered $3000 for training for new skills, along with $500 for financial advice.

Computer classes were provided for those wanting to improve those skills, while Centrelink officers have been stationed in the Transition Centre to pass on job offers.

Like Ford in Victoria, a jobs fair was also organised in conjunction with governments and industry bodies.

Many of the workers are third-generation Holden employees who gave known nothing else but car building.

The biggest concern for Holden and the South Australian government is the existing high unemployment rate in the Elizabeth area around the factory. It currently is running at 32 per cent, and while the overall SA unemployment rate registered a fall recently, the closure of the Holden plant will not help.

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