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Whittlesea factory-workers look out for neighbours

Whittlesea locals are enjoying the fruits of a booming food and drink industry.  

Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Economic Studies researcher Dr Anthony Kent said Thomastown and Lalor's food and beverage industries were outpacing competitors around Melbourne and helping sustain the local economy.

In his study The local impact of industrial development Dr Kent found many of these firms employed staff almost exclusively from Whittlesea.

"This strong connection between the companies and local labour ensures the strong flow-on effects of growth in the sector is benefiting Whittlesea," Dr Kent said.

Dr Kent said the sector was mainly staffed by unskilled workers with English as a second language who found the work through their local social networks.

"We found that these workers went back to their ethnic social club, sports club or neighbourhood and spread the word about jobs and recruited that way," Dr Kent said. "The managers actually preferred that rather than dealing with recruitment agencies, who they found frustrating to deal with."

Dr Kent said employers should be encouraged to continue using these networks because they provide a reliable and ready source of labour. He said these networks demonstrated the resilience and skills of newly arrived migrants in finding employment. 

"These employment networks reinforce the important work of an organisation like the Plenty Food Group in forging a local identity in the northern suburbs because it shows that there is something really special going on in the north," he said.

Dr Kent's study also looked at where the food and drink from these companies were being sold.

While most general goods went to the major supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths some were also going into niche markets taking advantage of the products' migrant histories.

"Many of the pseudo-boutique products with ethnic branding went to be sold in the wealthier south-eastern suburbs," he said. "Some managers said people in their area didn't buy them because they made these products themselves at home and had done so for generations."

Dr Kent said most of the data was collected from interviews with 19 firm managers and census data. He said further research would look at the conditions of factory work in the industrial estates and levels of job satisfaction.

Dr Kent's research was funded in part through collaboration with industry partners including the City of Whittlesea.  He said it was an example of how university-industry collaborations could help us understand the links between local communities and economies.  

 

Available for interview:

Dr Anthony Kent, researcher

Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University

(03) 9919 1452; 040 794 6963; anthony.kent@vu.edu.au

 

Media contact:

Michael Quin, communications officer (research)

Marketing and Communications, Victoria University

(03) 9919 9491; 0431 815 409; media@vu.edu.au

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