Closure means 40 lose jobs

By Country News

About 40 people have lost their jobs following the announcement Riverside Meats will close its Echuca abattoir after more than 35 years of operation.

A letter to employees said it was with ‘‘deep regret’’ the business would stop production from March5.

‘‘Unfortunately, the business has not been making profits for some time now and on a review undertaken by its accountants we have come to the realisation that we simply cannot afford to keep operating the plant,’’ the letter said.

‘‘As a result, there will be no work available for employees from this time forward and the decision has been taken to terminate the employment of all employees by reason of redundancy.

‘‘We would welcome any suggestions from you which might result in us being able to change this decision, but in the absence of any such workable suggestions, the redundancies will take effect from Monday.’’

The letter said those employees who had entitlements to redundancy pay would be paid those entitlements in ‘‘due course’’.

A reference that has not thrilled the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU).

Victorian branch assistant secretary Barrie Chalkley said the company and workers had been negotiating up until last week following the walk-out of workers and their picket line late last year.

That was sparked by a breakdown in negotiations over wages and conditions — the main concern of the workers was about the tally system, an incentive program paying them more for increased output.

‘‘We tried to contact the company yesterday, no answers,’’ Mr Chalkley said.

‘‘We’ve sent emails about when the redundancies are going to be paid; generally when they do something like this all the redundancies are paid up.

‘‘They replied it’s going to be paid in ‘due course’ and that is not good enough. We will certainly be chasing that up at our end.

‘‘They didn’t consult... there’s a model consultation clause where they are meant to advise us of what’s going on and they’ve done none of it.

‘‘They’ve turned around and more or less said ‘thanks for your time but we’re closing the doors’ and then handed notices out.’’

Mr Chalkley said there were about 40 employees, not including staff inside and maintenance staff.

‘‘They sent an agreement through last week. I was about to go this week to talk to the members to see where they stood,’’ he said.

‘‘Any time they’ve done an agreement in the past 10 years they’ve threatened to close the doors.

‘‘But you hear that every time when you’re negotiating.’’

Mr Chalkley said the closure would hurt the town.

‘‘It’s going to be very hard for people to find jobs with limited skills. They’ve got great skills with meat, no doubt,’’ he said.

Union delegate Darrel Holgate, who has worked at the facility for 17 years, said he was stunned following the announcement.

‘‘I’m not happy, I’m not sad... I’m still dealing with it,’’ he said.

Mr Holgate said he definitely did not think it was the right decision on behalf of the workers.

Explaining its decision in the letter — signed by (Chris Peat) — the company said: ‘‘as you would be aware Riverside Meats has operated in one form or another, and employed local workers in the area for more than 35 years, and this decision was a difficult one to take and not made easily by the company. We thank all employees for their past service, who should also now realise that the present basis of operating is untenable.’’

Riverside, which refused to comment during the picketing, wanted to shift its staff onto fixed hours and salaries.

Riverside Meats did not provide a comment before deadline.

—Tyla Harrington