By Kyra Gillespie
Employees at a Pakenham caravan factory have been left with more questions than answers after they turned up to work on 18 March to find a lease termination sign posted on the locked front gates and security guarding the premises.
South African-owned Jurgens Australia has been at the Sharnet Circuit address in Pakenham for almost 10 years and was based in Tooradin prior to that.
Around 50 staff showed up to work on the Monday morning, only to be turned away at the gate.
“We were given no heads up,” production supervisor Matt Bright said.
An employee, who wished to have their name withheld, said Jurgens South African parent company Imperial Holdings Ltd, had been shut down for months.
“It’s been really slow and finances are getting pretty hard, I don’t know how long they are going to last,” the employee said.
“(Jurgens) get lots of their caravan kits from over there, but it’s been shut down and the new owners are currently involved in a court case.”
Another employee said the company hasn’t paid rent for 12 months and believes half a million dollars is owed in rent.
“Every employee has been left in the dark and been pretty much lied to,” he said.
“We all have rent, mortgages and children to pay for, yet we’ve been told no answers. What are we supposed to do?
“This has happened to them before I believe, but this may be the final nail in the coffin.”
Despite the South African parent’s financial woes, Jurgens has been making appearances at various caravan shows and posting on Facebook up until 13 March.
Just days before the closure of the Pakenham facility the manufacturer advertised a tour of the factory on Facebook, saying, “Would you like to see how a Jurgens caravan is built before you buy? Our factory tours have re-commenced for 2019. Call now to book.”
The phone lines appear to be disconnected.
Stewart and Kim Williams purchased a Jurgens caravan back in 2017 to tick off Kim’s bucket list following her diagnosis with dystonia, an incurable neurological movement disorder.
A few weeks into the trip their caravan ‘fell to pieces.’
“We got as far as Cooktown and it basically started to fall to pieces,” Mr Williams said.
“We travelled to Brisbane to try and get work done at one of their dealers, but eventually we had to drive back to the Pakenham factory.
“They offered to buy the caravan back, but we lost $15,000 because they considered it secondhand. It was only eight months old.”
The Tasmanian couple also claim that company owner Paul Kyriacou, who has been approached for comment, tried to make them sign a non-disclosure agreement.
“I didn’t sign it – I started warning people online against Jurgens and they blocked me out of all their sites.
“There were so many things wrong with our caravan – the oven and fridge fell out, the floor bowed and bellied, the awning was twisted and the external walls were all creased and rippled – the list goes on.
“All of this cost us a fortune with no warranty back-up whatsoever. They are not good people to deal with.
“They’ve been at every caravan show this year most likely collecting deposits that people have no chance of getting back.”
Jurgens have not responded to the Gazette’s request for comment.
In an article published in Caravancampingsales late last year, company owner Paul Kyriacou admitted there had been “significant speculation about the future of Jurgens Australia” following its South African branch, which can trace its DNA back 60 years, being placed into provisional liquidation.
The Pretoria High Court in South Africa therefore placed Jurgens Ci Pty Ltd in provisional liquidation and called on all interested parties “to show cause on or before 6 February 2019 why the respondent (Jurgens) should not be placed in final liquidation … ”
Paul Kyriacou was reported telling Jurgens Australia staff that the provisional liquidation was “old news“.
“We are in negotiations regarding this issue and I do not foresee Jurgens going into final liquidation,” he’d said.
Jurgens Ci (Pty) Ltd is one of the largest caravan manufacturers in the southern hemisphere and has built more than 100,000 caravans since 1952.
Jurgens are still registered on ASIC, however an ASIC spokesperson confirmed a notification of a court action relating to the winding-up of the company had been issued on 7 March.