Once a place where the chocolate makers felt like family, Cadbury’s factory at Claremont now exemplifies the state’s manufacturing challenges and the need for us to adapt
How Cadbury’s Claremont factory exemplifies the state of local employment
It was to be a workers’ paradise. A chocolate factory and a utopic way of life for Tasmanians modelled on George Cadbury’s visionary creation of a rural idyll for workers a century earlier in Bournville, away from the slums of industrial Birmingham in England.
The Cadbury factory and estate at Claremont began production in 1922 on a 100ha peninsula on the River Derwent, and fulfilled its Quaker founder’s promise for decades. The semi-rural location near Hobart was idyllic and the village surrounding the factory was built to resemble a garden city, with green spaces, sportsgrounds and attractive timber and brick houses for employees.
Workers were treated like family and encouraged to play sport and spend time outdoors where the aroma of cocoa beans roasting inside the factory lingered on the breeze. Chocolates were in abundance, with discounted offcuts for employees and visitors alike.
It is a different story today. Over the past four decades, the chocolate manufacturer has slashed more than half its workforce, with another 50 of its 450 workers to go by the year’s end. The beautiful avenue of trees leading to the heritagelisted factory buildings remains, but Cadbury has sold off most of its residential and community assets, including the bowls and golfing greens, withdrawn sponsorship from some community events, ended public tours of its facilities and closed its popular visitors’ centre.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Tasmanian state secretary John Short believes the changes reflect an unnecessarily brutal shift in the company’s philosophy and focus, from a healthy, happy workplace and community to profits and production efficiency. Others, including economists and social and political experts, argue it’s simply an unfortunate and inevitable sign of the times, which reflects a broader decline in major manufacturing in Tasmania and Australia.
All agree, however, that continuing job losses and the fast pace of technological change and automation at Cadbury and other manufacturers in Tasmania, including Norske Skog Boyer paper mill and multi-metals business Nyrstar, are having a significant impact on some of Tasmania’s most socially and economically disadvantaged people, who despite Tasmania’s economic growth and falling unemployment rate are struggling in the face of fewer entrylevel jobs, heightened job insecurity and growing intergenerational poverty and social inequality.
Freddo Frog, Flake and Twirl chocolate bars, Roses boxed chocolates and the classic Cadbury Dairy Milk block with the equivalent of “a glass-and-a-half of pure full-cream dairy milk” are among the 144 million chocolate blocks and 131 million bars (or 48,000 tonnes of chocolate) produced each year at Cadbury’s Claremont factory, and sold mostly in Australia and New Zealand. Ninety million Freddos – in production since 1930 and one of the company’s best-selling products – are eaten every year in Australia. It sounds like a huge number of sales, but clearly it is not enough to quell the flow of redundancies at Cadbury. The announcement in August by Cadbury owner Mondelez International (a branch of Kraft Foods) that another 50 jobs would go by Christmas at Claremont was not unexpected. It highlights a decades-long trend: the decline of jobs in major manufacturing businesses in Tasmania.
Mondelez has said it is committed to its business in Tasmania, and will invest $75 million in new technologies, equipment, automation and training at the Claremont site over the next 18 months. The company owns a milk processing plant at Burnie and processes about 75 million litres every year for 100-percent use in Mondelez International products (predominantly chocolate made at Claremont). It buys milk directly from more than 40 Tasmanian farmers and is the naming rights sponsor of the popular Cadbury Marathon in Hobart. But with the company’s New Zealand factory at Dunedin to close next year – and another 350 jobs to go as a result – as well as increasing competition, low domestic growth, rising costs and Australia’s distance from international markets, the company’s future in Tasmania is far from certain.
“Our Claremont manufacturing site was the first Cadbury operation set up outside the UK in 1922 – it has played a significant part in Cadbury’s history in Australia and we want to make sure it continues to play a part in our future, too,” Mondelez International manufacturing director for chocolate in Australia and New Zealand Jason Bonisoli says.
“The nature of manufacturing has changed and our competition is now global, so to truly be able to compete globally we need to focus on making Claremont a best-in-class factory.
“Through realising efficiencies, investment and implementing new processes and technologies, we will be able to produce quality products at a competitive-enough cost that we can attract export opportunities, maintain local jobs and ultimately help secure the future of manufacturing here in Tasmania. The actions we are taking to future-proof our site here are consistent with local and global trends we’re seeing in manufacturing.”
Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce of Industry data shows Tasmania’s manufacturing sector has shed about 3000 jobs in the past 10 years – from 21,000 employed in the sector in 2007 to 18,000 this year. In contrast, employment in healthcare has increased from 25,000 to 35,000, and accommodation and food services jobs have increased from 18,000 to 20,000 over the same period. This reflects a broader shift towards a service-based economy, and jobs growth in areas including tourism, hospitality, aged care and niche/advanced manufacturing (for instance, specialised IT, ship building and brewing).
Though the change is happening at a time of relative prosperity, with growth in the economy, increasing business confidence and declining unemployment, it is feared structural changes such as those at Cadbury are exacerbating social inequality in the state’s poorest areas.
The decline in manufacturing jobs in Tasmania reflects an Australia-wide and international trend among developed countries. Manufacturing, once a major employer, now accounts for less than 10 per cent of total employment and economic activity in Australia. Leading economist Saul Eslake says Australia in general has never been particularly good at manufacturing.
“There are obviously honourable exceptions, and Cadbury might have been one of those – and that’s not the fault of workers. It’s because to be good at manufacturing in today’s world you need to have scale,” Eslake says.
Australia and Tasmania, with their relatively small domestic markets and distance from potential export markets (compared with the US, Europe and China) are therefore at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to manufacturing.
“We have defied economic logic [by supporting manufacturing in Australia] for 80 years because we, like lots of countries, shared this belief that there was something inherently more important about manufacturing than other forms of economic activity,” Eslake says.
“Tasmania needs to focus on producing highly differentiated products that people will pay a premium for. My impression is Cadbury is producing chocolate that might be good but it’s not highly differentiated, it’s not unique, and therefore the only basis on which you can keep producing it is by having ever lower wages, paying farmers ever lower milk prices and having lower standards.”
While some think Tasmanians should embrace the shift from manufacturing to a services economy, others say the Government must tread carefully, and ensure there are still enough entry-level jobs for low-skilled workers. This means providing appropriate training and re-skilling opportunities, and making sure Tasmanians complete Year 12.
Union boss Short says state and federal governments must support manufacturing with incentives and other initiatives if the sector is to remain a key provider of entry-level jobs for low-skilled workers in Tasmania.
“People have been able to buy houses, bring up families and have a comfortable life on the strength of good manufacturing jobs,” he says.
“Even if they weren’t able to go to university, or weren’t academic at school, they still had a good future ahead. It’s a real concern that we’re losing these kinds of jobs.
“It’s not inevitable that manufacturing is going to die. Everyone needs manufactured products. It’s up to the State Government to attract [manufacturing] companies here.”
Demographer Lisa Denny, who will be speaking at a Future of Work event in Hobart next week, says people are at risk of being left behind by the fast pace of change.
“Large employers such as Cadbury have provided generations of families with employment,” she says.
“People saw Cadbury as a place of community based on reciprocal loyalty and a means to provide for their families. Children suffer the consequences when their parents are made redundant. There has definitely been a loss of job security – and that worries families. The changes are exacerbating the challenges for those who are living in socio-economic disadvantage. It’s the loss of that two-way loyalty which has long-term intergenerational consequences.
“We won’t see upward social mobility unless we can create more secure jobs. There is a disconnect between what the Government is saying about economic growth and jobs. Even if the economy is performing well, it doesn’t equate to job creation. There are plenty of opportunities for jobs. We have to identify where they are and make sure Tasmanians have access to education and training.”
TasCOSS chief executive officer Kym Goodes echoes Denny’s concerns. “Underemployment and casualisation within the workforce remain an issue,” she says. “We need to make sure no one is left behind as we move into employment areas that require a different way of working, different training and different skills. This won’t just happen, and requires recognition that some communities are doing it harder than others, and some people will require more intensive, longer-term support to take up the job opportunities available.
“It is critical that we help people take up the opportunities in the emerging growth areas of employment [such as aged and
THERE HAS DEFINITELY BEEN A LOSS OF JOB SECURITY – AND THAT WORRIES FAMILIES
disability care roles] to ensure we do not see another generation of long-term unemployed in Tasmania … this requires support, not just for the job skills but also in the ‘soft skills’ that are required. The emerging employment opportunities in Tasmania require people skills and the ability to be adaptable to change.”
The State Government’s $4.08 million Jobs Action Package, announced in May, seeks to address these problems. The partnership between the State Government, TasCOSS and the TCCI aims to increase the number of people in employment – especially in regional areas, in part by removing barriers (including lack of public transport) to people gaining and maintaining employment.
Independent Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie wants the Government to recommit (to either Cadbury or other initiatives in the Glenorchy area) the $16 million of Federal Government money pledged by former prime minister Tony Abbott in 2013 to Cadbury, which withdrew its application for the money when it was unable to meet the funding criteria.
During Question Time last month, Wilkie asked Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull whether he would honour the Government’s 2013 promise to inject $16 million of economic stimulus into the northern suburbs of Hobart through promised enhancements to the Cadbury factory, and what would be done to help the latest workers being made redundant.
“The community [in and around Glenorchy] is worse off because of the decline in manufacturing in some areas,” Wilkie says. “At least Cadbury hasn’t closed the factory here, that’s some small mercy. [But] imagine what impact $16 million could have if it was invested in Glenorchy [for instance, in public transport or other public infrastructure], a relatively disadvantaged area with high unemployment, low average wages and a relatively high dependency on Government Centrelink payments. It needs and deserves economic stimulus and public funding.
“The area has seen the rise of [ship builder] Incat and the emergence of Mona. It has space for business to grow and there are emerging areas of excellence, such as the art scene, which includes not just Mona but the Moonah Arts Centre, too. Government investment would turbo-charge the area.”
A mid-week, late-afternoon drive through Hobart’s northern suburbs to the Cadbury factory and estate at Claremont, just 4km beyond Mona, reveals little of the changes – job losses, new infrastructure builds, automation, new chocolate lines – at Cadbury over 95 years.
From the Brooker Highway, the vast factory outline is only just discernible on a tree-lined horizon. From the water’s edge, the road winds up through an avenue of towering trees and into a leafy green neighbourhood. The striking white factory complex is within an oasis of green – of established trees, well-tended suburban gardens, sportsgrounds and golfing and bowls greens, all just beyond the gated factory buildings and out of sight of the charred and abandoned heritage-listed Claremont Public School on Cadbury Rd.
It’s clear that George Cadbury’s vision and legacy has endured in more ways than is obvious to the eye. Genuine goodwill exists for the company despite concerns about redundancies and the current owner’s focus on production efficiencies.
Among those who worked or had friends at Cadbury or visited the site, there’s a respect for the company’s founding ethos and a nostalgia for “the great days at Cadbury”. Locals recall the lingering smell of chocolate in the suburbs and at the factory, and the pleasures of eating it.
At Claremont Bowls Club, which was established with inkind support from Cadbury in 1960, a wall plaque honours one of the club’s founding members and former Cadbury manager D. Coleman. Though few, if any, of the club’s members now work for the company, many remain grateful to Cadbury for being a good employer – and for giving them access to rental properties and cheap land and homes in the area.
The golf and bowling greens, which are in prime waterfront positions, were sold to the clubs for a small sum when Cadbury divested most of its land assets after merging with Schweppes in 1969. “Cadbury sold off the bowling green and gave away the sports green,” club member and former Cadbury employee Karl Renetzeder says. “You could buy blocks of land for $6000 in 1973. Now a vacant block is selling for $110,000. People felt gratitude for that. Cadbury was a good company to work for. They were good to their employees.”
Mondelez is criticised only obliquely during our conversation, in connection with the club’s weekly social bowls competition, Cadbury Fours, which the company used to sponsor, and the visitors’ centre.
“They used to sponsor us with chocolates, but when Mondelez took over they dropped us,” club president Michael Pursell says. “The club members were a bit disappointed about that.”
Club secretary Mike Quinn, who moved to Claremont in the 1970s, says fewer people visit the area now.
“There’s nowhere near the traffic there used to be near the factory and bowls club. There were so many cars coming out of Cadbury at the end of the day,” he says.
“They’ve lost the tour guides in the factory and shop. They used to have 300,000 people a year go through the visitors’ centre. They’d come by boat, buses, cars and train. If you had people visiting from the mainland, that’s where you’d take them. They all used to leave the factory laden with chocolate, and you could get a good discount on it.”
While interstate visitors may not get beyond nearby Mona these days, Glenorchy resident and historian Colin Dennison, who helped Cadbury digitise its historical photographs, says the Cadbury legacy has endured in Hobart’s northern suburbs.
“The Cadburys were very strict Quakers, and they were very family-orientated. If you were working there, half of your family ended up working there, too,” Dennison says. “It was like a big family. They helped families pay their kids’ dental bills. I had a lot of friends who worked at Cadbury and they were very happy in their work. They were devoted to the company. The sun shone out of the place.”
Dennison can still recall the smell of chocolate on the breeze in Glenorchy, where he has lived since 1951. “Chocolate has always had a certain amount of charm,” he says. “You could always smell it, especially if there was a sea breeze coming in. I worked part time for Armaguard and when you delivered the pay at Cadbury you’d be allowed to go through the shop and get a couple of packets of reject chocolates. People would say, ‘Get me two packets’, so you’d come back with half a bloody truckload.”
Former Cadbury employee Pauline Hall likewise recalls the smell and pleasure of working with chocolate. The now-85-yearold Glenorchy resident, who was made redundant at Christmas in 1979 after 24 years, worked in many roles alongside her late husband, a storeman until he retired, as well as her daughter for a while.
“We were one big happy family,” Hall says. “They were good to us – they were human, which makes for shorter and more enjoyable days.”
Hall started as a factory worker on a chocolate-wrapping machine. “I was mostly wrapping Brazil Nut bars,” she says. “Then I moved up to the experimental department, which was interesting because we used to do the new lines of chocolate.
“Luckily, I didn’t put on any weight – I think we used to work it off. We were allowed to eat chocolate every day. If you went into a department, you could eat a chocolate there, but you weren’t supposed to get a pocketful. I loved Turkish Delight and anything with nuts.”
For anyone who thinks the changes at Cadbury are recent rather than part of a long, slow process of worker attrition, former Cadbury board director Ted Best’s experience is telling. Now 73, Best says change, including job losses associated with mergers, takeovers, rationalisation and automation, has been constant since he joined the company as an engineer in 1966.
“I joined at a time when things happened,” says Best, formerly head of the company’s Tasmania operations before he retired in 2003. “It’s been an experience. Adapting to the technology, trying to make yourself competitive all the time is challenging.
“Manufacturing [generally] has suffered. When I started at Cadbury at Claremont, the number of employees was approaching 2000. When I took over in 1976, we had about 1400 to 1500. But by the time I left again to go to Cadbury in Melbourne the numbers were down to somewhere between 600 to 700, largely because we had to keep investing in new technologies and faster machines.”
Dennison says the first change in company culture came when Schweppes bought into Cadbury in 1969. “They were a very hardnosed business lot, very different to what Cadbury were,” he says. “From there it was a sharp turn down. All of the family-orientated initiatives started being white-anted right out of the place. Now you’ve got Kraft [Mondelez] in there and all they’re interested in is making money. They don’t care about anything else.
“The same thing has happened at other manufacturers, like the zinc works [Nyrstar] and Boyer, where I worked. They were set up on the same basis as Cadbury and really valued family, but things have changed. Everything is more money-orientated.” Best, however, feels only goodwill for the company. “I understand why Mondelez wants to keep a low profile, compared to what it used to be like,” he says. “People expect good things of you, with sponsorships and the like, and then when you have to do the harder things, like redundancies, it’s even tougher.”
He’s hopeful Mondelez’s recent decision to invest $75 million at Claremont means the factory will remain open for another 10 to 15 years, at least.
“It’s been a constant struggle to maintain the viability of the factory at Claremont and it will continue to be,” he says. “You can’t think forever in these situations.” Demographer Lisa Denny will facilitate a panel discussion at a Future of Work in Tasmania event at the University of Tasmania’s Stanley Burbury Theatre, Sandy Bay, on Tuesday, from 6-7.30pm. If you would like to attend, RSVP to Alumni.Office@utas.edu.au or phone 6324 3052