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City Voice: After the car industry

ON and off for 20 years, Mike Patelesio worked for Mitsubishi Motors in Porirua.

"I started there when I was a young boy," he says. He did other jobs at times, but always went back to Mitsubishi - the last time for 12 years, eventually leading a group that refurbished all the second-hand cars that came to the plant.

Last year the plant closed, a victim of the National GovernmentÕs decision to scrap the remaining import duties on cars. Patelesio was one of 266 people made redundant.

He's one of the lucky ones. Within two weeks, he got a short-term contract job at Deltec Telesystems in Tawa, making parts for cellphone transmitters. After two months, Deltec gave him a permanent job.

He's earning less - only $11 an hour on the assembly line, after a recent pay rise, compared with $17 as a group leader at Mitsubishi. But he says, "The job's easier, I'm not complaining."

While the car industry has disappeared, high-tech companies like Deltec are thriving. Deltec exports 90% of its output, employs 65 permanent staff and currently has 50 extras on short-term contract to handle big orders from Taiwan and China.

"The automotive industry was an artificial industry in NZ, and we operate entirely without subsidy and compete with a lot of very big competitors," says Deltec chief executive Jim Donovan.

He says the company is here because "a couple of New Zealanders who used to work for the Post Office in the old days decided to set up a business on their own making telecommunications equipment, and it grew from there".

Deltec is now looking at setting up branch factories in countries where it has to pay high duties on imports from NZ. But Donovan says the Tawa plant will also grow, because of the need to keep a close interaction between the people who design Deltec's products and an on-site manufacturing operation.

Jim Wallace of the Porirua Business Development Society, which ran a resource centre for the redundant Mitsubishi workers, says that by the end of last year 76% had found jobs.

Seven are now at Deltec, including two on short-term contract. Others have gone to Rexel Electrical (formerly GEC), and to two companies which chose to centralise their NZ manufacturing in Porirua, Pacific Wallcoverings and Sealed Air Packaging.

Former union delegate Andrew Siaosi is one of "quite a few" at the Taylor Preston meatworks in Ngauranga Gorge. He's earning $10.30 an hour, down from $15 at Mitsubishi, and works from 4.15pm until 2.15am four nights out of six.

Rima Mataa, who'd been with Mitsubishi and its predecessor Todd Motors for 30 years, now earns about as much as he used to get from one job by working two days a week at a shoe warehouse, two nights a week as a caregiver, and teaching a Cook Islands language class at Porirua College.

But Robert Paton, of Newtown, is still out of work. He'd also been in the car industry for 30 years since starting at General Motors in 1968, but in the last 18 months has had only one short-term job.

"It's been pretty hard for me," he says. "I have good days and bad days." He's filled in time by covering his wall with photos of Princess Diana and the World Wrestling Federation, gardening, and "I just do a lot of walking - to get my mind off it."

- ATTEND THE City Voice/Scoop Employment election forum, St Andrew's on the Terrace, Thu 28 Oct, 7.30pm.

- first published City Voice Newspaper - republished with permission.

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