‘Backbone’ of Orange’s economy shuts down

Around 200 workers in the central west NSW town of Orange face an uncertain future as production at the long-standing Electrolux manufacturing plant halts.

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The last of 12 million refrigerators built at the 74-year-old factory rolls off the assembly line on Monday.

Orange’s deputy mayor Chris Gryllis worked at the plant in the mid-1960s and says the town is losing the backbone of its economy.

He said it could take the town years to fully recover.

“Every second house in Orange would be associated with this factory in some way or another,” Mr Gryllis told AAP.

“Those of us who knew the factory have a sentimental attachment to it.”

The Swedish-owned company announced in 2013 production at the factory would be moved offshore to Asia and Europe to cut costs in a hit to both the town and Australian manufacturing.

The factory’s general manager Mark O’Kane said it could not compete with overseas-based manufacturers.

“At the end of the day a labour rate of $2.50 an hour, that is really hard to compete against,” he told ABC radio.

“I’m just fearful for Australian manufacturing.”

The Electrolux plant – Australia’s only refrigerator-making factory – has employed around 40,000 people since it opened as a small arms factory in 1942.

At its peak, it employed 2000 people.

Ninety of the current 300 staff will be retained by the company to help decommission the plant.

Some staff will retire, but Mr Gryllis is confident those left unemployed would eventually find jobs elsewhere if given the right training.

He said Orange had the economic resilience to deal with the blow.

“We’ve seen other factories, not as big, closing down,” he said.

“We have the orchards, the wine, the food.

“We have become to some extent the nerve centre of the mining industry, so we’re travelling quite well as a regional city.”

But the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said the former employees’ prospects of finding long-term work were slim.

“They’ve had a number of other key closures in the region and the economy in that area has just been laid to waste,” the union’s NSW secretary Tim Ayres said.

He said Electrolux had a plan it put to the federal government requiring a very small investment in new capital to keep the plant going.

“But the federal government rejected it out of hand.”