Australian manufacturing giant Norco has stood down 170 workers after failing to find the money to continue paying their wages following a catastrophic flood.
Norco, which operates a major ice cream factory out of Lismore in the NSW Northern Rivers region, suffered major damage during floods in the area earlier this year, and has suggested the disaster had left the company with a $141.8 million bill.
Until Friday, Norco had been paying staff out of an $8 million grant from the government, but this money has now expired.
Workers affected have not been told if they will receive redundancy payouts, or when they could see the money if it is to be paid.
A separate offer of $34.7 million from a joint Federal and NSW government funding package for flood affected Northern Rivers businesses has been made, but Norco is yet to accept.
The company told union representatives in an emergency meeting on Thursday that Norco had asked for an extension on the Friday deadline to accept the offer, and requested a further $11 million in funding that had previously been allocated to the manufacturer.
Justin Smith from the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union said in a statement that a firm plan for the company’s future needed to be decided urgently.
“Keeping Norco in Lismore is our priority,” he said. “We’re hopeful that an arrangement between the government and the company will see the rebuilding of the factory get started.
“If there is an extended rebuild process, we’ll fight to make sure workers can take voluntary redundancies with the guarantee that their jobs will be there for them when the factory is rebuilt.
“Workers at Norco, and the entire Lismore community have been through so much this year. They need stability and clarity about the future as soon as possible.”
Workers are not expected to know what Norco’s plans are, including if they will be eligible for redundancy payouts, until the board meets next Thursday.
AMWU state secretary for NSW and ACT Cory Wright last week urged the manufacturer to accept the nearly $35 million on offer, and give workers clarity on their future.
“Now that they’ve been offered over $34 million, Norco needs to provide clarity as to the workers’ future. Workers can’t be left in limbo,” he said.
“The combined Unions are committed to helping affected workers access employment opportunities elsewhere if they can’t work at Norco.
“No one should be left worse off by this process.”
Mr Wright told the ABC on Friday there was “a big cloud of uncertainty” hanging over the workforce.
“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.
Norco CEO, Michael Hampson, had suggested last week the company would look to welcome back workers “once we can get a project completed building the ice cream factory at Lismore”,
“In the near term we will need to stand the people down next Friday, but we look forward to the future, we look forward to getting our ice cream facility up and running and in another couple of years, once that has settled down, how can we expand it,” he said.
Last week, Norco suggested as many as 240 jobs were at risk, and said the offer from the government “falls well short of what we need to safeguard the factory’s future”.