Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Tim Ayre

by: By Tim Ayres

IT might seem like everything’s made in China these days but chances are, you use something every day that’s made in Sydney’s western suburbs – whether it’s the automatic transmission in your car, a scratchie, a solar panel or a smoke alarm.

As trains and motorways are funneling commuters east, work is already under way at the thousands of small and medium-sized factories and workshops often hidden from view.

Near Liverpool, workers at HPM make the only Australian-made powerboards, sockets, smoke alarms and switches you’ll find at your local hardware store.

At Minto, workers churn out Streets paddle pops and Cornettos. At Bella Vista, workers at ResMed make devices to treat sleep apnea.

Of course, making things in Sydney has its challenges. Across Australia, manufacturers are being squeezed by the high Australian dollar and low-cost overseas competitors.

As western Sydney is a manufacturing centre, the current squeeze on the industry disproportionately hurts the region. 

Jobs are being hit.

Two hundred jobs were lost when multinational Reckitt Benckiser closed its West Ryde factory, sending the manufacture of its iconic Australian brands Mortein and Dettol overseas. The Huntington factory that supplies Australia with its scratchie instant lottery tickets is soon to shut, with the work being sent overseas. Sixty jobs are going there.

Hundreds of jobs will be lost when Shell stops refining oil at its Clyde site.

The same story of job losses is playing out on a smaller scale at many workplaces across western Sydney. If we don’t pay attention to our manufacturing base in western Sydney, we face watching it fade away. Good, skilled trades jobs in manufacturing industries with a future are critical to the economic success of the region.

Wages from good blue-collar jobs sustain suburban economies, while local manufacturing creates supply chains that spread economic benefit well beyond a single enterprise.

With real commitment from industry and government, Sydney’s west can be a smart and skilled manufacturing centre in the competitive global economy.

We need to aim for a future in which an auto component maker in Blacktown can win a contract against one in Guangzhou.

We won’t get there on labour costs: we’re lucky to live in a country where people earn fair wages. It will be through investment in technology, innovation and skills; a commitment from industry to employ managers who are capable of leading their enterprises in a tough environment; and a serious effort from government.

Government’s role is not to prop up outdated technologies and industries. But it should be fighting for good local jobs, supporting the industries of the future and creating the environment for them to thrive.

We haven’t seen much of that lately: 17,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost from NSW since the O’Farrell government took office. Barry O’Farrell may not have personally sacked those workers but nor has he been defending them nor putting up the big ideas for the NSW manufacturing jobs of the future.

A place to start would be the North West Rail Link. The state government has trumpeted the project’s potential to create jobs, yet has set no local-content target.

The North West Rail Link could be a driver of manufacturing jobs in western Sydney in steel fabrication, in rolling-stock components, in air-conditioning units, in concrete.

Or tenderers could just send all of that work – for thousands of Aussie jobs – overseas.

In Granville, workers at Knorr-Bremse produce brake sets for trains – I’d love to see them get the chance to supply the trains that run on the new train line. But I’m not holding my breath.

A mandated ratio of apprentices to skilled tradespeople on North West Rail Link contracts would deliver some serious investment in training and valuable opportunities for young people to take up a trade.

There are many elements to building a thriving manufacturing future for western Sydney. Business, unions, training organisations, residents and government at all levels have a role to play.

But it won’t happen by itself. 

Tim Ayres is NSW secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union

Advertisements