THE high rate of the Australian dollar is proving to be a thorn in the side of Electrolux as it fights to gain a bigger slice of the export market and remain competitive.
Manager of the Orange plant Mark O’Kane conceded yesterday following a meeting with union officials, the state of the dollar over the next couple of years will be crucial to the plant increasing its imports.
Of the 300,000 refrigerators and freezers produced at the plant last year, just 3 per cent were exported.
Mr O’Kane said pressure is now on the plant to prove it can source new export markets, and driving a harder deal with suppliers is also on the agenda.
This includes components already sourced from overseas at a cheaper price than can be produced in Australia.
“We will never get into the mass markets of south east Asia and China where people buy purely on price,” Mr O’Kane said.
However he said there is a niche market in other parts of the world for Electrolux fridges and those opportunities now need to be fully explored.
Union delegate Tony Cardwell told the Central Western Daily cost cutting is part of the ongoing process at Electrolux.
“We have already had to introduce other measures to cut back,” he said.
State secretary of the Australian Metal Workers Union (AMWU) Tim Ayres, said his visit yesterday was to get a clear picture of what is happening at the Orange plant as it goes into an intense phase of scrutiny to see if it can remain viable to produce the next design of fridges after the current design rolls off the production line at the end of 2015.
Mr Ayres heard of the fluctuating fortunes of Electrolux over the summer where production was cut due to poor sales in November and December however jumped sharply in January with the heatwave requiring staff to be called in to work extra hours.
He said the AMWU understands Electrolux has to look at important issues such as transport costs when it is measuring up its performance.
“But what we have to remember is that everyone who works here is very engaged and that’s a lot of people,” he said.
Mr Ayres said the next step for the union which represents a significant number of the 600 workers at the plant is to meet with the steering committee established as part of the intensive study to take place at the plant over the coming months.
He said the AMWU wants to work closely with the commonwealth government over the next few months to secure any support possible, however he said it was too early to tell what the implications in terms of benefits might be for a plant such as Electrolux following Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement the government was committing to boosting Australian manufacturing.
“I will write to the member for Calare John Cobb to seek his assistance in putting his support behind Electrolux as I want him to be fully aware of all the issues at stake here,” he said.
“There is no point him blundering around making big claims which are not accurate and not helpful in this situation until he has a full picture of what is happening,” Mr Ayres said.
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