June 18, 2024

Ericsson women – navigating employment and new beginnings

If you look out any of the windows on the east side of Spectrum’s fifth floor office at the Hume City Hub, you can’t help but notice the huge factory buildings directly below – grey, nondescript, and mostly unoccupied.

But once upon a time, these buildings were buzzing with the activity of factory workers, a multicultural workforce of over 3,000 employees producing telecommunications equipment, including exchanges and PABXs.

LM Ericsson – a Swedish telecommunications company – opened the purpose-built factory in Dallas in 1963, which coincided with increased post-war migration arrival in the 1960s and 70s of people seeking jobs and a better life. With the added attraction of affordable public housing in the local area, many migrants settled in and around Broadmeadows and found work at Ericsson.

Daisy and Marlin – members of Spectrum’s Assyrian Social Support Group – are two of the Ericsson women who found not just financial security, but community and a sense of belonging.

Two Assyrian women

Pictured: Marlin (left) and Daisy


Daisy arrived in Australia from Iran in 1970, with her husband and three young boys. The family lived in Campbellfield and Daisy found work in Quality Control at Ericsson.

“We were making the underground cables for telephones,” said Daisy. “I was the tester. Whatever was coming to me, I was testing. If they are good, I would put them back on the line to go. If not, that’s a reject.”

“It was hard, but the reason I started working was to earn money and help my husband.”

An elderly woman looking out of a fifth floor window overlooking factory buildings below

Marlin points out the part of the building where she once worked


Marlin, also from Iran, had other reasons for working at Ericsson. When she first arrived in Australia with her parents, they were all living with her brother and his wife, who had one child and another on the way. Marlin was keen to give the young family some space, but first she would need to earn money so she could move out with her parents to another home.

“We were in English School and one lady came and said, ‘Ericsson is employing people and whoever is interested can put their name’. I put my name – plenty of people put their name – and straight away, from there to interview, and we did a lot of testing. I got the job and that was it.”

Less than five months after arriving in Australia, Marlin was working on the assembly floor at Ericsson, soldering circuit boards and other components. She would stay at Ericsson for the next nine years.

Both Daisy and Marlin speak highly of their time at Ericsson, and their fellow workers.

“We had lunchtime together, morning tea together, we became like a family,” said Daisy. “So many different nationalities working together, there were people from Yugoslavia, some from India, Turkish people. We didn’t think of what nationality we are; we just came together. We had all just come to Australia.”

“Communication was good,” she laughs. “Broken English together.”

Marlin agrees: “It was beautiful. We were all like friends. Everyone was friendly because we were all from other countries. And for Christmas and Easter, they used to have a party at Ericsson. They would organise food and we would be sitting all together. All those people – imagine! It was good. They were looking after their workers – 100%, you could tell.”

Ericsson provided excellent staff benefits and had a very active social club. The annual Christmas party saw hundreds of families attending with gifts distributed to children. They had onsite doctors and nurses, a small shop that offered lay-by, and even an onsite creche.

“That was the best creche for the kids,” said Daisy, whose children attended the creche while she worked. One of her boys – who still cringes when he recalls the jelly that was served to the children – later got a job at Ericsson as a technician while he was studying at university. After graduation, he was offered a job as an engineer and 30 years later, he is still working for Ericsson.

At Ericsson and other manufacturing companies around Broadmeadows, thousands of new migrants were able to work and save money to buy homes in which to raise their families. They were hardworking people, some of them working overtime to fast-track their savings and get a head start on their new life in their new country.

Sadly, in the late 90s, Ericsson began shifting its production offshore, and local manufacturing began to wind down until 2007, when the factory closed its doors for good.

Over the years many other factories in the city of Hume have also shut their doors: Tasco Downing (textiles), Yakka (uniforms), Pure Pak (packaging), Nabisco (biscuits), and more recently, Ford. As each factory closed, the opportunities for new migrants to gain employment diminished.

Yet the City of Hume continues to be a destination for many migrants and refugees settling in Australia. Many will face hurdles in finding employment.

Mo Date, Case Manager in Spectrum’s Settlement team laments the shrinking opportunities for employment in the region because of the decline in the manufacturing sector. But for most of her clients, it is not the first barrier they will face.

“The first thing is language,” said Mo. “They could be a professional – say an engineer or a doctor – back in their home country, and they may speak English but not as fluent as the requirement here. They may take around 6 months to improve their English and while they are working on that, they have to get their qualifications certified, they can do driving lessons and get their driver’s licence. They need to settle their family as well.”

For those arriving without qualifications, the process typically takes a lot longer.

“Most are coming in on Humanitarian visas, and they may have spent a long time in refugee camps. Some are starting with zero English; they didn’t have a chance for education or employment. They may have children, some of them have 3-4 kids. They may have a lot of doctors’ appointments when they first arrive. This cohort takes longer to settle.”

Mo provides one-on-one support to newly arrived migrants and refugees, assisting them to identify employment goals and write resumes, while providing a lot of encouragement and support. She also helps to run Working in a New Culture (WINC), a 5-week group program that provides information and tools to make the employment journey as smooth and successful as possible.

“I can’t say enough how important employment is for a new migrant or refugee as an element of good settlement,” said Mo. “After many rejections, clients say they feel ‘hopeless, useless, worthless’. But once they get a job – they are over the moon. They walk with their head held high. And that makes my day.”

Employment programs such as those offered by Spectrum are a valuable support for newly arrived migrants and refugees seeking work. While the availability of manufacturing jobs has diminished over the years, having a job is just as important now as it was back in the 70s and 80s. For the newly-arrived, the hopes and desires for their families are similar to those that Daisy and Marlin had.

“We all came from Iran,” said Daisy. “And we came here to have a better life.”

See also:
Social Support Groups
Employment services