An unravelling hosiery market has forced the end of an era in Canterbury manufacturing.
Pacific Brands Clothing Group, a subsidiary of Pacific Dunlop, says it will consolidate hosiery production at its Melbourne plant by the end of next month. Thirty jobs will be axed at its Jockey factory in Christchurch, while 55 will go at Sara Lee Apparel in Porirua.
Pacific Brands general manager Bryan Pearson said hard-working Jockey staff had prolonged the life of the operation, but market forces had proved too strong. "They made some incredible gains in the face of some pressure, but the way things have worked, it may not be enough," he said.
Pacific Dunlop spent about $16 million to buy Jockey from Lane Walker Rudkin in March last year, sparking concerns the brand would leave Christchurch.
However, Pacific Dunlop agreed to keep at least 75 per cent of its manufacturing in the city for three years. Mr Pearson said the company would still make socks and thermal underwear at the factory, but that the hosiery line had to go. "It would be easy to say that this is a cost-cutting measure, but it was never taken this lightly," he said. "We've been trying to keep the business here for a long time, but the decline has made it too difficult." Mr Pearson said the world hosiery market had been receding for about six years. Sales had halved, and the purchase of Sara Lee Apparel in March made consolidation even more necessary.
Mr Pearson said Sara Lee's Melbourne plant was running at about 50 per cent of capacity. "This is the best proposal we can deliver," he said.
National Distribution Union textiles organiser Kaelene Churton said the company had promised staff counselling and help in finding new jobs. They were also invited to offer alternatives to the consolidation proposal. "No-one wants to leave any stone unturned," she said. "If we think we can get a better future, then we will look for it." Ms Churton said staff had expected some changes, but were still upset by the move. Many had been in the factory since "the old" Lane Walker Rudkin days. "For some members this is the end of an era," she said. "It'll mean the last links with a place they have known for a very long time." Ms Churton said the union and workers would spend the next week working through contract and work-seeking issues.
Jockey New Zealand merged with Holeproof, Berlei, and Bonds in July last year, to form Pacific Brands Clothing Group.