Battle for Port Kembla Hospital kitchen jobs

• Wollongong registry office to close

• 30 jobs cut from Port Kembla hospital

• Qantas cuts to hurt hundreds in Illawarra

A campaign to save Port Kembla Hospital’s food production unit – and 30 jobs – is heating up, with thousands of community members signing a petition.

NSW Health Services Union Illawarra organiser Graham Conroy said people were outraged the unit was facing closure, with HealthShare NSW planning to move food production for the region’s hospitals to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.

The Port Kembla unit supplies about 7000 meals a day to hospitals in the Illawarra Shoalhaven and South Eastern Sydney local health districts, but staff have been told it could close as soon as June. 

Staff and supporters protested outside the hospital  last month, and the union is not ruling out statewide strike action.

About 3000 signatures have already been collected and Mr Conroy said the petitions were being circulated at  Warrawong and Dapto markets and through  businesses.

‘‘We hope to get 10,000 signatures as soon as possible so the issue can be raised and debated in State Parliament,’’ he said. ‘‘We really need the community’s support on this, as the closure will not just affect the 30 workers, it will affect local suppliers and have a roll-on effect throughout the local economy.’’

HealthShare NSW, which is responsible for patient meals in the state’s public health system, said it was making changes to allow the introduction of a new menu.

Manager of food and hotel services Carmen Rechbauer said the Port Kembla unit was not able to implement that menu without a major upgrade.

‘‘Port Kembla production kitchen is one of five production kitchens in NSW Health. That kitchen is in need of an upgrade – the other kitchens have more up-to-date technology. For us to upgrade that kitchen would be in the millions [of dollars].’’

Ms Rechbauer said HealthShare had been consulting staff and the union since late last year.

‘‘That kitchen produces a number of different products and carries out different functions,’’ she said. 

‘‘Since last year we’ve been slowly scaling back its activities and are investigating what role it will continue to have within the local health district. 

‘‘We haven’t 100 per cent decided that it will be closed completely.’’

The key focus was to ensure the upgraded menu was rolled out  in the region’s hospitals, she said. 

‘‘We are looking at what local suppliers can do to support us and we are looking at making sure the staff in the  unit are placed into jobs in the local area,’’ Ms Rechbauer said.

Wollongong MP Noreen Hay said she  opposed  any scaling back of the unit.

 ‘‘All this government has to do is invest in updating the equipment at Port Kembla to ensure that jobs are retained and that patients have fresh, local produce produced by locals,’’ she said.

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