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Byron Shire
December 9, 2022

Unions meet with Norco over staff stand down

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Norco Lismore.

With flood-ravaged Norco in Lismore under scrutiny, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, and the Electrical Trades Union met with management on Thursday to discuss the company’s plans for its Lismore ice cream factory.

The combined unions had called an urgent meeting with management to get answers following the announcement that Norco was granted $34.7 million in government support.

The unions said they learned that Norco had requested an extension to the deadline for acceptance of the Anchor Business Support Grant and has asked for up to $11 million in funding that it was previously allocated under the federal government’s Regional Growth Fund.

Speed up efforts to provide housing

The unions are also calling on the state and federal governments to speed up efforts to provide housing to residents impacted by the floods. From representing workers on mining and power generation projects, we know it’s possible to house large numbers of workers in rural or remote areas very quickly. We want to know why our governments can’t do the same in Lismore.

State Secretary AMWU NSW & ACT Cory Wright said every time representatives come up to Lismore, they’re struck by how much work still needs to be done to get the region back on track. ‘There are still people living in tents while we hear the news that more rain is on the way. We’ll be looking for ways the unions can help the community more directly outside of our advocacy for workers.

‘The state and federal governments need to work harder to provide secure, safe housing for all impacted residents. It makes no sense that mining companies can efficiently set up workers’ camps in the middle of nowhere, but it’s proving too challenging to do the same in Lismore.’

Norco ice cream.

Keeping Norco in Lismore a priority

Secretary AMIEU Newcastle & Northern Justin Smith said keeping Norco in Lismore is the priority. ‘We’re hopeful that an arrangement between the government and the company will see the rebuild 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.’

Secretary ETU NSW & ACT Allen Hicks said wrkers must be prioritised in these discussions. ‘Norco cannot make decisions without keeping workers in the loop.

‘The combined unions will continue to communicate with our members and work to support them as they’re impacted by the company’s decisions.’

Majority of employees stood down on Friday

Norco has confirmed that last Wednesday, September 21, the Lismore ice cream factory employees were notified that a temporary staff stand down would take effect for the majority of employees after the close of shift on Friday, September 23 – when the current government workforce funding expires.

A Norco spokesperson said that while this represents a sad day for Norco and indeed the Lismore community, the co-operative is proud of the fact that with the government’s assistance, its entire workforce has remained employed and being paid for 30 consecutive weeks since the floods occurred; something they are incredibly grateful for, as it has offered both financial and emotional peace of mind to employees during especially difficult times.

‘During this time, Norco staff have made a significant contribution to the Lismore community clean-up and rebuild efforts, with teams dispersed across the ice cream factory, local farms and the wider community.

Norco ice cream.

Norco ‘extremely transparent’ with workforce

‘Since the floods occurred, Norco has been extremely transparent with its workforce around the uncertain future of the ice cream facility. Staff were also fully aware that the recent bespoke funding package from the Federal Government was for a duration of 10 weeks only, with funding to expire on Friday, September 23.’

The spokesperson said the government has also made it clear that there will be no further funding packages to support the ongoing employment of the Lismore ice cream factory workforce. ‘Norco remains committed to doing everything it can within its means to safeguard the future of the ice cream facility, for its 170-strong workforce, 290 farmer members and the Lismore community.

‘Should it be rebuilt, Norco looks forward to the day it can welcome back its hardworking and valued workforce.

Stand down ratified by Fair Work Commission

The spokesperson said that the reasons that staff are being stood down are: The most recent bespoke funding package from the Federal Government was for a duration of 10 weeks, with funding to expire on Friday, September 23 – The stand down has been ratified by the Fair Work Commission.

‘A small number of maintenance staff (16 in total) will remain actively employed to continue works on the facility. The ice cream facility has been out of commission since the floods occurred. This has meant that once the post-flood clean-up efforts at the facility had been completed, there were sadly no operations and therefore no jobs for people to fulfil.

‘Norco takes its role as a major employer in the region very seriously. However, it is also a 100 per cent farmer-owned co-operative, with many farmers heavily impacted by the floods. Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, the farmers simply cannot continue to pay the wages of employees while there is no commercial output from the facility.

‘Norco remains extremely grateful for the Federal Government and its assistance in keeping the ice cream factory workforce employed following the floods.’

Norco has received $8.7 million

Contrary to what the unions intimate, to date, Norco has only received $8.7 million in total funding from the Federal Government, 100 per cent of which has been for its employees. No further funding has been received.

The spokesperson said that Norco wants to see a future for the ice cream facility. ‘However, in the event that the factory is not rebuilt, the co-operative will certainly fulfil all of its necessary workforce obligations. That said, they do remain hopeful that they can welcome back their workforce when operations resume.

Cost of the flood $141.8 million

‘On the future of the Lismore ice cream factory, we estimate that the total cost of the flood to the co-operative is $141.8 million.

‘The business has received an extension and is currently working through the detail of the Government’s $34.7 million Anchor Package funding offer and what it means for the future of the facility and its workforce. But, we are doing so with a genuine commitment to doing everything we can within our means, to safeguard the future of the facility for their workforce, farmer members and the Lismore community.’

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  1. Why, in the name of sanity , are tax-payers supporting a private industry to the tune of $8.7 million ?
    Does this mean we all get free ice-cream and butter for the rest of our lives , no it just goes into the coffers of an ice-cream factory that [deleted] Can you believe this nonsense ?
    Cheers, G”)

    • Ken, in the article it is written, “…to date, Norco has only received $8.7 million in total funding from the Federal Government, 100 per cent of which has been for its employees. No further funding has been received.” It appears that the workers, not the company, were receiving the $’s.
      And ‘support’ will be continuing as presumably the stood down workers will be applying for Centrelink benefits now.

      On Norco and their $’s141millions hit, just wondering how much, if any, $’sInsurance they will receive to compliment the $’s34millions Anchor Package and $’s11millions Regional Growth Fund, to get the factory rebuilt.

      • Yes, Joachim….. it is written that the 170 employees recieved $ 8.7 million, by my calculation that is about
        $51,000 each. If the factory is closed , they are unemployed , so why don’t they recieve the same as other unemployed accross the country ?
        Would it be that centerlink payments are unfit for people to survive on ? Are some people more entitled than others ?


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