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Job loss and industry closures were common in New Zealand during the 1980's and 1990s, and have once again become a feature of our economic landscape, particularly affecting Māori. This research is based on the sudden closures of both the Hawkes Bay Farmers Meat Company at Whakatu on 10 October 1986 and Weddel Tomoana Freezing Works at Hastings on 19 August 1994. The workers were not to blame for the closures. The closures were the result of economic, political and financial decision-making.

This research involves measuring the effects of large-scale redundancies on health, including deaths and hospital admissions, and interviews with people affected by the closures. The research is a partnership between Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare and Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc and is funded by Te Kaunihera Rangahau Hauora o Aotearoa (the Health Research Council of New Zealand).

Vera Keefe-Ormsby, Ngāti Pāhauwera, Ngāti Raukawa, Rongomaiwahine, led this research within Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare. A strong advocate for the Treaty of Waitangi and for Māori communities, Vera was also heavily involved in iwi, hapū and whānau health care including the Hawkes Bay DHB, Wairoa PHO and the Ngāti Pāhauwera Hauora Society. Sadly Vera passed away 26 August 2005. Tātai whetū ki te rangi, mau tonu, mau tonu; tātai tangata ki te whenua, ngaro noa, ngaro noa.

Mauri Mahi: Does being made unemployed affect health?

The first cohort study compared deaths, cancer registrations, and hospital admissions among freezing workers made redundant in 1986 when Whakatu works closed, with those of control workers from the Tomoana freezing works which remained open until 1994. Unique in the world, it provides an opportunity to establish the causal effects of unemployment, free from accusations of reverse causality. The study aimed to influence policies concerning economic, social and health inequalities and equitable access to health care.

The findings are reported in a booklet called “Mauri Mahi:Does being made unemployed affect health? The Closures of Whakatu and Tomoana" which was sent to all the people in the study and was launched at a week-long community exhibition in Hastings hosted by Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated.

Download a copy of the booklet " Mauri Mahi: Does being made unemployed affect health? The closures of Whakatu and Tomoana"

The results were also published in the following journal article: Keefe V, Reid P, Ormsby C, Robson B, Purdie G, Baxter J, Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated. Serious health events following involuntary job loss in New Zealand meat processing workers. International Journal of Epidemiology (2002) 31(6):1155-1161.

Tihei Mauri Ora: The Human Stories of Whakatu

In this qualitative study, Vera Keefe-Ormsby interviewed ex-Whakatu workers and young people whose whānau were affected by the closure of the Whakatu meat works. They were asked three questions over a series of three evenings using a Memorywork method: what was it like to work at Whakatu, how they coped with losing their jobs, and how their lives were ten years after the closure. Download the report

Mauri Tu: The Tomoana Resource Centre

Job loss is associated with risks to the well-being of individuals, families and communities. Central to this relationship is that employment represents more than income. It represents a shared community outside of the family and access to a degree of control over one's life.

This study describes an intervention developed by a community in crisis following a large factory closure (the Weddel Tomoana Freezing Works in Hawkes Bay). It notes the history, the environment, the collaboration between key participants, the support of various agencies, and the needs of redundant workers, their families and community. It focuses on the humanity of those made redundant, their interconnectedness, their sense of family and their demand to be treated with respect.

The experience of the Tomoana Resource Centre promotes the need for a facility that assists former workers to adjust to job loss by respecting their contribution to community, supporting them to maintain control over their lives and valuing their humanity.

Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare. (2000). Mauri Tu: The Tomoana Resource Centre – An Intervention Following Job Loss. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand. 15:55-68.

Mauri Tangata: long term health effects of involuntary job loss on mortality and morbidity

A second cohort study has been established to extend the follow-up of Whakatu and Tomoana workers and to compare their health events with those of workers from new control meatworks that stayed open after the closure of Tomoana in 1994. The new works include Pacific in Hastings, Wairoa, Takapau and Oringi (which also closed in 2009).

Research team: Bridget Robson, Gordon Purdie, Ruruhira Rameka, Jordan Waiti, Ngaihiwi Tomoana

Funded by Te Kaunihera Rangahau Hauora o Aotearoa (Health Research Council of New Zealand)

For further information contact: Bridget Robson

Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
PO Box 7343
Wellington South 6242
New Zealand
Tel: +64 4 385 5924
Fax: +64 4 389 5319

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