One hundred and seventy staff at a Lismore ice-cream factory are without work today and don’t know if they will receive redundancy payments, after the company failed to find enough money to keep them on.
- Norco has stood down 170 staff at its ice cream factory in South Lismore today
- It wants another week to consider a $35m grant and has requested an additional $9m
- Unions have asked Norco to offer staff voluntary redundancy packages
Norco had been using more than $8 million in federal funding to pay its workforce since its facility was destroyed in catastrophic floods seven months ago.
That expired today and Norco said its farmers could not continue to pay employee wages while there was no commercial output from the facility, with 170 staff being stood down.
Norco estimated the total cost of the flood damage to be $141.8 million, and that an offer of a $35 million joint federal and state grant fell well short of the estimated $70 million needed to rebuild the factory adjacent to the Wilsons River.
The dairy co-operative remains in negotiations with both levels of government about whether it will accept the grant, and is asking for another $9 million.
Factory staff today told the ABC they had again been left in limbo while management and the board decided whether it rebuilt the plant, and if or when they would receive any redundancy payments.
Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union state secretary Cory Wright said workers would not have clarity until after the Norco board met on Thursday.
“Today was to be D-Day … now there’s still a big cloud of uncertainty hanging over the entire workforce here at Norco,” he said.
Mr Wright said he could see staff were under “pain and stress” with the “lack of uncertainty obviously compounding”.
“All of the pressures that they’ve faced since February, we can see the mental strain on every single worker in the factory,” he said.
The union is calling for voluntary redundancy packages to be considered, with the option to return to work at the facility if it is rebuilt and operating again.
Norco has confirmed that 16 maintenance staff will remain employed to continue works at the facility.
Following meetings with management over the last two days, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union is feeling confident about the factory’s future for the first time since the floods.
“Definitely there is little indicators in our conversations that they are moving towards an operation back at this site,” branch secretary Justin Smith said.
“It’s more about the time frames that they’ve used to make a decision and ask you for another week, it’s just frustrated these workers immensely, and it filters out through the community.”
Mr Smith said it was time that Norco “put some skin in the game” and used their own money to ensure the future of the factory for the local community.
“Regardless of where the government’s at, they’ve handed out more money to Norco than any other site in the Northern Rivers and those sites are up and running,” he said.