SPEEDO AUSTRALIA’S CLOSING DRAWS LOCAL UNION’S IRE
Byline: Patty Huntington
SYDNEY — Speedo Australia’s decision to cease local production and fire 65 workers is drawing heavy union fire.
The Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia will appear today before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in Sydney to contest what it claims was the unfair dismissal of workers at Speedo Australia’s factory in Windsor.
The company maintains workers and the union were “well aware” for the past 12 months that the Windsor site was under review. But the TCFU said the first they heard of the decision to cease production was the morning of the retrenchment via a faxed letter from Speedo Australia managing director Rob Davies.
If that is the case, Speedo Australia, a subsidiary of Speedo International, could be found in breach of the terms of both its enterprise agreement with the workers and of Australia’s Workplace Relations Act , which mandates companies to consult with unions before plant closing and layoffs are made. The objective is to do everything possible to reduce the number of forced redundancies.
Founded in Australia in 1928, Speedo Australia is now owned by The Pentland Group. It is not affiliated with Authentic Fitness or Warnaco Group.
Steve Davis of the TCFU said, “I’m the organizer who visits that factory and nobody has spoken to me about closing Speedo and nobody has spoken to the workers about closing Speedo. In fact, every time we’ve asked if everything is OK with Speedo, we’ve been assured that, yes, it is.”
He added he was surprised by the company’s actions as the union had been negotiating with the company as late as last Wednesday over terms of a new enterprise agreement.
Davis said, “They’ve known about this for quite some time and they thought the workers would go quietly and not cause a fuss. Well, the workers have decided not to go quietly.”
The TCFU is appealing to the Industrial Relations Commission to have Speedo Australia reinstate the workers. Should that not happen, the union wants the company to negotiate an adequate retraining package to help workers find alternative employment.
Speedo Australia’s Davies, said, “We haven’t shut down Speedo in Australia; we’ve ceased manufacturing.”
He said he was “personally very sorry” that the company was obliged to make the decision to close the Windsor plant.
“It’s a harsh economic fact of life that in Australia we cannot compete on a worldwide manufacturing level,” he said. “In certain instances, with design and technology, we can, and that’s where we’ve been identified by Speedo International to take our skills worldwide.”
As of next Saturday, the Windsor site will be one of two design centers worldwide, with the other being located at The Pentland Group’s headquarters in Nottingham, England. It will have a sales and marketing arm, information technology, customer service, a finance function and a distribution center.
Davis said Speedo Australia’s manufacturing division has been integrated into Speedo International’s production.
Both design centers will collaborate, with each having specific skills. Considering Australia’s climate and beach culture, the main focus of the Australian arm would no doubt be Speedo’s leisure or beach offerings, he said.
“The other option was we could have just closed Australia and decided we’re just going to send a distributor down here,” added Davies. “We’d have made a lot more money and made a quick gain. But the heritage of Speedo is in Australia. It originated here in 1928. Speedo International are committed for Speedo to remain very, very strong down here, hence the appointment of the design center. It’s a big, big investment into the brand and into the future of Speedo here.”
Founded by the MacRae Knitting Mills in Sydney in 1928, the Speedo brand was first worn on Australian beaches before moving to the pool and being marketed as the swimmer’s swimsuit. The Australian swimming team first wore Speedo at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and Speedo became the official swimsuit supplier to all 52 nations competing in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
It was named official supplier yet again four years later at the Montreal Games.
In 1987. the company was taken over by Abe Goldberg’s Linter Textiles Corporation. In 1990, following Linter Textiles’ collapse, Speedo was acquired by the Pentland Group and had since wound down local manufacturing operations to the plant at Windsor from three factories.
Although he declined to comment on how many, if any, of the Windsor workers would be offered employment at the new operation, Davies added the company has offered “outplacement counseling” to all of its Windsor staff, and the staff is undergoing “outplacement workshops” in which their job skills are being assessed.
He said the company is also paying workers their minimum entitlements — two weeks leave for every year of service, uncapped overtime and a bonus of 25 percent unused holiday and sick leave.
Davies said, “It’s worth noting that we’re paying out the full entitlements and there’s a lot of companies in Australia that have turned AWOL and gone. We’re not one of those companies.”
As a separate issue, the union said it is also currently investigating claims that Speedo Australia may be making swimsuits in Australia using sweatshops. The TCFU estimates approximately 200,000 people are currently working in Australian sweatshops.