Southern Engineering Services workers get 8pm call: your job's gone

The locked exit gate at the premises of Southern Engineering Services in Unanderra.
The locked exit gate at the premises of Southern Engineering Services in Unanderra.

A Sunday night phone call at home was how many Southern Engineering Services employees found out they no longer had a job.

SES, a family company founded in 1950 and a long-time industry stalwart in Wollongong, closed its doors this week, putting about 120 people out of work.

The company had operations from Newcastle to Perth but the majority of the retrenched workers are in the Illawarra, adding another sorry chapter to the recent history of manufacturing and heavy industrial services in this region.

SES was placed into voluntary administration a fortnight ago, and while administrator McGrathNicol have been trying to find a buyer, the money has run out.

One worker retrenched this week said employees were taken aback by the Sunday night phone call, which was not how the family company had operated.

"You wouldn't treat your worst enemy the way they put them off," he said.

"This was originally a family-owned business and there were a lot of families built into the business."

The employee, who did not want to be named, now has to find another job to support his family, and he will join many others in the queue. He said the company's demise was a tragedy for the Illawarra.

"For a company to be established in the local area, and for 64 years ... now the business has just been erased. It was a stalwart in the area for mining, now it's got its head in a bucket."

Founded by David Parry and Pat Thomas soon after World War II in humble digs on Wentworth Street, Port Kembla, SES expanded around the country and in 2010 celebrated its 60th year with a gala dinner attended by the original owners.

In the 1980s Paul Wenham became the proprietor and his son Andrew later joined him as a director.

Performing services, maintenance and installations, largely for mining clients, SES was a diverse group of operations.

Some of its sites, in Unanderra, Newcastle and Perth, have been purchased by Perth-based Statewide Bearings.

These are just SES's bearings operations; all other functions have now ceased.

Employees have not been given a specific reason for the company's fall, other than that it had been hit hard by the downturn in the coalmining sector.

A spokesman for administrator McGrathNicol confirmed all remaining staff had been made redundant. He said the administrators did not want to have to call workers on Sunday night.

"Last week and through the weekend they were working round the clock to shore up funding for the business to keep it going, and they couldn't do that," he said.

"There was not enough money left to pay for one day's work on Monday. So that meant they had to call a number of staff on Sunday night and say the job's redundant."

The administrators are still looking for buyers for SES's assets, and this could determine how much money is available to pay workers and other creditors.

"If a sale was to eventuate then it is likely some offers of employment would be made to staff recently made redundant," he said.

SES was a private company controlled by a share structure that includes the Wenham family and two of their family companies, Gyressa Pty Ltd and Starshell Pty Ltd.


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