2007 did not get off to an auspicious start at Dynamic Controls. Fraud and subsequent law changes in America and the high Kiwi dollar led to low sales. This in turn led to low orders, leaving most of the factory staff in Christchurch with little to do for the first three months.
Staff that had been with the company for a while were aware that with all Invacare’s (the US-based parent company) competitors already in China, and Invacare having shifted respiratory production to China some two years previously, this state of affairs could not continue.
The first blow fell in early April with the announcement of five redundancies from the factory floor. Any job loss is painful, but we thought we’d got off lightly, until May 16.
They dropped the big one on us that day. We had an all-team meeting where they announced that the mobility sector of the business would relocate to China, with the expected loss of 200 jobs, which were to be phased out over the next 18 months.
To soften the blow, they told us Dynamics would retain its contract manufacturing operation here in Christchurch and attempt to grow it. Cold comfort! The effect on morale was catastrophic.
The following months were full of anger, tears, apathy, and stress-induced illnesses. Absenteeism went up, and production went down, which made management take notice. Apparently they thought it would be business as usual!
They also failed to see how far the ripples would spread, and were surprised when the quality of our suppliers’ wares went down! Indeed, the consequences of job losses, imminent or long-term, went further than anyone suspected. From the smaller firms that make our components and packaging, to the company that runs our staff canteen, to the staff members with loan and mortgage applications refused, the effects were far-reaching.
In damage-control mode, the company put all the affected staff though a course on dealing with change. While some of the content was useful, it still remained that they were trying to make the brutal appear normal! They kindly gave everyone a free book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” - again with some useful points, but reeking of capitalist propaganda.
Five months down the track, the first lot of redundancies happened. These were 11 voluntary ones. For some staff it came as a godsend: older people, those wanting to shift to Australia, and pregnant women; but any staff leaving hurts, it’s like breaking up the family.
For a long time after that nothing seemed to happen, apart from the astounding phenomenon of almost everyone joining the union, out of fear in some cases. Then the first couple of lines finished production. The staff on these lines were absorbed into the remaining cells, building buffer stock until their turn came.
Christmas came and went, and the date for the next round of layoffs was pushed out two months. Just last month it was pushed out again. In mid-February the company announced a major breakthrough and introduced a ray of hope. Another Christchurch manufacturer was moving offshore, but like Dynamic, wanted to retain some business in Christchurch.
Dynamic outbid other companies for the contracts. Amazingly, the make or break of the deal was the retention of staff members from the previous firm. This caused some angry mutterings among the unenlightened, the kind of people who resent temporary workers, but generally Dynamic staff can see the light at the end of the tunnel. With the latest information that the projected total of job losses has been reduced from 200 to 150, many of us feel more secure.