At 59, Foreman and supervisor John Hoffman saw it coming. The 30 odd workers at Watters in Bendigo kept getting notices from management reassuring them that the company was refinancing.
John knew a bit about share trading and watched with great suspicion as the value of the company tumbled to about 10% of its worth.
‘We had employee shares that we bought through salary sacrifice, so we were keeping an eye on things. It didn’t help – we lost the lot.’
When the axe fell on building services company Hastie taking out Watters as collateral damage, that was hard enough. But when the administrators refused to make the workers redundant and thereby trigger Protect payments and other entitlements, it came as a shock.
‘Dean got Bill Shorten (Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) on board and suddenly the administrators changed their minds. We could get our Protect money then and when Bill helped sort out GEERS (General Employment Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme), things didn’t look quite as bad,’ John said.
John has been in the game since 1970. He was the last of the five year apprentices. Literally. While the new intake were walking away with A Grade certification after four years of Trade school, because he was born a month earlier John had to do another year.
‘I don’t think it made me a year smarter,’ John laughed.
He has been a union member for at least 35 years, but was still very impressed with the ETU officials, the clear advice they gave and the speed at which they went to work on the problem.
‘It can be a pretty thankless task being a Union official,’ John said. ‘But when you’re in trouble, it’s good to have them covering your back. If it hadn’t been for the likes of Dean and the boys, we would still be in no man’s land. It’s great to have the opportunity to give them a bit of a pat on the back.’
John Hoffman is not the sort of bloke to sit around and mope. Late last year, he and his nurse wife Marja went on holiday to Cambodia. While in Siem Reap, they visited a nearby orphanage that friends of theirs had been supporting.
John did a couple of days work to help out at the orphanage and promised to return in August this year.
‘When the Watters collapse happened, I knew that jobs in Bendigo would be few and far between – especially with 30 blokes being dumped on the market. I also knew that when I got another job, I wouldn’t be able to go back to Cambodia in August as I promised. So, I went in May.’
John went back for three months, helping with wiring and paving old mud tracks and general maintenance.
‘I had a young bloke follow me round and learn some basic maintenance stuff. The problem is that the kids don’t have anyone to teach them. There is a big gap in the population because an entire generation is missing,’ he said.
‘Those who weren’t victims of the 28 million tons of bombs dropped by US President Nixon in the 1960s, or were among the three million Cambodians slaughtered by Pol Pot in the 1970s, escaped to Vietnam and didn’t come back,’ John said.
Cambodia is a very beautiful country that has suffered horrific damage. And as a result there are a lot of orphans.
‘You may feel a bit sorry for yourself because you have been made redundant, but spend a few days with these folks who have got nothing and you soon forget about that.’
John says that the orphanage would be grateful for any sort of help.
‘It doesn’t have to be a big deal. We know of one bloke who collects the money left behind in the washing machines in his laundromat and sends that over. It’s only about $300 a year, but it means heaps to the orphanage.’
If you have a laptop you no longer need or can spare a few dollars, you can make a big difference. Australians Fay and Dave Retallick helped set up the orphanage and they make sure that any donations get to Cambodia without any middlemen helping themselves. If you can help, contact them at email@example.com
John is also available if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org