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Imperial Tobacco Closure Blow To Workers, Community

E tū says today’s confirmation that the Imperial Tobacco plant in Petone will close is a blow to the members as well as the wider Lower Hutt community.

E tū organiser Damon Rongotaua says the closure, which means the loss of 122 jobs, is the result of several factors which have sounded the death knell for the 100-year old plant.

“It’s a combination of factors and unfortunately they feed off each other,” Damon says.

“As a result of health policies designed to reduce smoking including higher excise, there are declining sales and over-capacity both here and in Australia, where some of the product is sold. The plant also needs up to $4 million to bring it up to code. They’ve got two practically new plants overseas and that’s where this work will be going.

“So, there’s no coming back from it unfortunately. It’s the downside of globalisation,” he says.

Damon says E tū members have a collective agreement with one of the best redundancy clauses in the country and many will get big pay outs, especially those with decades of service.

But he says other workers with little service behind them have been hit hard.

“We’ve got a couple pushing 50 years’ service; many have 35 to 45 years’ service, and about 35% have about 25 years’ service plus. About 40% have done 10-25 years, and then there are the newer workers.

“They’re really upset about it, because they’ve just got a really well-paid job and now it’s over.”

Damon says the plant pumped millions of dollars into the Hutt Valley, to the benefit of the workers but also local businesses.

“The ones that have been there a while, they’ve been expecting it. But it’s still a sad day for them. Actually, it’s a sad day for the whole Hutt Valley. It’s going to leave a massive hole in the community and the economy.

“I know it’s not the retail product of choice but for all the bad press around it, it’s helped a lot of people to buy homes and kept communities running.”

Damon says the factory will go through a staged shut-down with the decommissioning of the plant due to be completed by the end of the year.

He says over that time the union will be working to ensure company commitments to provide re-employment assistance are met and that redundancy payments are correct.

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