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Kodak sacks 600 workers in Australia

Workers at Kodak's Coburg factory digest the news of the plant's closure after a being told of the job losses at a staff meeting yesterday.

About 600 Victorian workers have fallen victim to the digital age and will lose their jobs when photographic giant Kodak closes its Coburg film manufacturing plant at the end of November.

The company blamed the rise of digital photography for the closure and said all employees would receive full entitlements.

But the union movement said it had urged Kodak to investigate ways of keeping the plant open in recent years and staff would be left with poor job prospects.

"It's a devastating blow for the workers at Kodak... and a really bad blow for the Victorian manufacturing economy," said Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Doug Cameron.

"John Howard and Peter Costello should come down here and explain to these workers what this Government will do to support them and why they have not intervened and demanded accountability from this company."

About 400 administrative staff will continue working at the plant's office, but Kodak Australia chairman John Allen said it was too early to say whether there would be more job losses.

"These closures have been caused by the fundamental change in consumer behaviour driven by the increasing popularity of digital photography in Australia and worldwide," he said. "It's a very sad day but I think on site here it's understood that this is a technology-driven change."

Workers were told the news at a staff meeting at the factory at 3.30pm yesterday. They were shocked at the company's sudden decision to close the plant.

"It feels like my guts have been wrenched," said Spiros Vasilakis, 40, a father of three, who has worked at Kodak as a machine operator for 20 years. "We knew this would happen, but everybody thought it would be a gradual shutdown, not like this."

He said Kodak had been "great to work for". "They've given us skills and training."

John Van Duijneveldt, who worked for 26 years with the company, said he felt "numb" at hearing the news. "There's a lot of emotion for a lot of people at the moment. You get attached to the job and the people," he said.

Storeman Pat Reid, 52, said it would be difficult for many older employees to find work again.

"At my age, it would be hard for me to walk into another job. Shock is the only word. Everybody will be going home and sitting in their chair tonight and saying, 'what happened?' "

Earlier this year US parent company Eastman Kodak said it would cut up to 15,000 jobs worldwide by 2006. The cuts are meant to save up to $1.3 billion in costs every year by 2007.

Mr Allen said only on Tuesday did he received final confirmation that the plant would be closed.

The first staff to finish work will be those at the site's wholesale photo processing lab, which will close on October 22. The rest of the plant will stop operating on November 26 and most employees will leave a week later.

Mr Allen said the employees' redundancy package would compare "extremely favourably" with others offered in Australia.

He said the decision was not influenced by the performance of the plant, nor by Australian economic, industrial or political factors. He said one in three Australian households would have a digital camera by the end of this year and 3.5 million mobile phone cameras would be sold this year.

The company would offer counselling and career advice to help employees find new jobs and the state and federal governments had offered to assist with training, he said.

The average employee was male, aged 45, and had worked at Kodak for 15 years.

Mr Cameron said the fight to keep the plant open was not over. The union has asked Kodak for the plant's business plan.

"Our first position is to sit down and talk to this company about whether these jobs can be saved. It's about maximising jobs in Australia and Victoria."

Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union state secretary Brian Daley said many Kodak employees worked in specialised areas. "Their job prospects in the special industries that they work in, often for 20 or 30 years, is effectively nil," he said.

While unions said Kodak had opened a plant in China, Mr Allen said it was not a case of jobs going overseas. He said demand for film and paper had declined by 15 per cent annually in Australia in the past two years.

Victorian Manufacturing and Export Minister Tim Holding said employees would have access to State Government programs to retrain. "In 1999 the Victorian Government provided some financial assistance to Kodak," he said. "The grant agreement required Kodak to establish a regional training centre. We expect the company will keep that centre open for its 1250 remaining Australian employees."

Federal Labor's industry spokesman Kim Carr said the closure was a devastating blow for workers, their families and the Victorian economy.

Federal Employment Services Minister Fran Bailey expressed disappointment at the job losses and said Centrelink and Job Network representatives were organising meetings with the workers.