By Rowan Forster
The closure of Simplot has officially been confirmed, with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union on Wednesday revealing the iconic Pakenham warehouse has been sold to Pacific Equity Partners – resulting in the turnover of an entire workforce.
More than 125 workers are expected to lose their jobs as a result of Simplot’s withdrawal, but many could be subsequently re-hired.
On 29 March, Bairnsdale-based Patties Pies will seize operations at the plant, marking the end of a five-decade era but the beginning of another.
Patties is the corporation behind the beloved Four’N Twenty pie, one of Australia’s most renowned pastries.
The AMWU anticipates that almost all of the current workers will be made redundant, but is optimistic that some will be offered positions with the new company.
Leggo’s chilled pasta and sauce varieties, owned by Simplot, will continue to be manufactured at the site, but the factory will predominantly be used for Patties Pies’ berry range.
A spokesperson for the union said remaining staff were relieved to have finally learnt their futures.
“There has been a lot of uncertainty so I think people are relieved to be given a date,” he said.
“Many are a bit shocked but they’re happy to now have a timeline.
“Hopefully there will be a significant number of jobs at this site, but we just don’t know.”
It comes after Simplot first announced the proposed closure of the Pakenham facility on 22 August, delivering a sharp blow for more than 140 staff.
A number of workers were reportedly offered voluntary redundancies in the weeks that followed.
One staffer, who did not want to be publicly identified, said he was relieved to no longer be left in the lurch.
“It’s been a lot of wondering and a lot of worrying, so it’s good to finally know what is happening – as difficult as it is,” he said.
“This has been bad news for Pakenham, but hopefully Patties can recoup some of the losses.
“It’s great of Patties to try and save jobs and help the community.”
The company says the decision to exit from the frozen meals category was made in order to concentrate on its core capabilities in potatoes, vegetable, seafood, pasta and sauces.
Simplot Managing Director Graham Dugdale believes the sale will have a positive outcome for the community.
“We are pleased that the site is continuing to operate as a food manufacturing facility that can support the growth of Patties Foods business,” he said.
“At this time the welfare of our people continues to be our main focus and we will ensure ongoing support is provided through the transition process.”
The site was formerly owned and occupied by Nestle, which opened early in the 1960s.
In 2009, the company bowed out of the facility, selling to the American-owned Simplot.
Since 1995, Simplot has acquired some of Australia’s best-known food brand businesses including Edgell, Chiko, Birds Eye, Harvest, Plumrose, and Leggos.