Norco quits 170 workers at flood-damaged ice cream factory in South Lismore

One hundred and seventy workers at a Lismore ice cream factory are out of work today and unsure if they will receive severance pay, after the company failed to find enough money to keep them on .

Norco had used more than $8 million in federal funding to pay its workforce since its plant was destroyed in catastrophic flooding seven months ago.

That expired today and Norco said its farmers could not continue to pay employee salaries until there was commercial production from the facility, with 170 employees being laid off.

Norco estimated the total cost of flood damage at $141.8 million and that an offer of $35 million in federal and state grants fell well short of the estimated $70 million needed to rebuild the plant. adjacent to the Wilsons River.

The dairy cooperative is still negotiating with both levels of government to find out if it will accept the subsidy and is asking for an additional $9 million.

Factory staff told the ABC today they have again been left in limbo as management and the board decide whether to rebuild the factory and if or when they will would receive severance pay.

Cory Wright and Justin Smith speak to Norco workers on their last day.(Rural ABC: Kim Honan)

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union secretary of state Cory Wright said workers would not have clarity before Norco’s board meeting on Thursday.

“Today was supposed to be the big 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 suffering from “pain and stress” with the “lack of uncertainty clearly compounded”.

“All the pressures they have faced since February, we can see the mental strain of every worker at the plant,” he said.

A man in a dark blue polo shirt stands with his hands on his hips in front of a locked door.
Cory Wright spoke with staff at Norco’s Lismore Ice Cream Plant.(Rural ABC: Kim Honan)

The union is calling for voluntary redundancy plans to be considered, with the possibility of returning to work at the facility if it is rebuilt and functioning again.

Norco has confirmed that 16 maintenance staff will remain employed to continue work at the facility.

There was some positivity however, with the Australasia Meat Workers Union feeling confident about the future after holding meetings with management for the first time since the floods.

“Certainly, there are few indicators in our conversations that they are heading for an operation at this site,” branch secretary Justin Smith said.

“It’s more about the timelines they’ve used to make a decision and ask you for another week, it’s hugely frustrating for those workers and it trickles down to the community.”

A gray-bearded man wearing a black shirt stands in front of a brickyard.
Justin Smith says there are positive signs at Norco.(Rural ABC: Kim Honan)

Mr Smith said it was time Norco “stepped up to the plate” and used its own money to secure the future of the plant for the local community.

“No matter where the government is, they’ve poured more money into Norco than any other site in Northern Rivers and those sites are up and running,” he said.

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Norco to lay off 170 workers despite offering bailout

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