The immediate future of the Deniliquin Rice Mill is again in doubt, with SunRice yesterday announcing significant cuts to production.
It is unclear how many jobs will be lost in Deniliquin, though it will be the vast majority of the 100 job losses expected across the company’s Riverina operations.
While massive cuts to production are proposed in Deniliquin, there will only be a minor reductions at its Leeton facility, which will be cut back from seven days a week to five days a week from April.
There are currently 152 people employed at the Deni mill.
There will be a four phase reduction in mill operations, starting on January 2.
From April, eni’s ‘Mill 1’, which focuses on bulk rice, will cease production and go into maintenance and the ‘Mill 2’ structure will be cut back to part-time operation. Mill 2 is for short grain processing for the Japanese cuisine markets.
The ‘Mill 2’ operation will be further cut to a mere eight hours a day for only five days a week from the middle of next year.
The reduced size of the rice crop due to zero water allocation for local growers is being blamed for what SunRice calls a ‘milling reconfiguration’ and the subsequent loss of jobs.
Although the size of the 2019 rice crop has not been announced, it is expected to be the second smallest in 15 years and also the second smallest since the rice mill opened 40 years ago.
In a statement released yesterday SunRice said it would be “reconfiguring its Riverina milling, packing and warehouse operations over the coming eight months to cater for the significantly reduced Riverina rice crop anticipated in 2019”.
It said: “SunRice remains firmly committed to the Riverina region and the difficult decision to implement changes in operations follows an extensive review process.”
It said changes to the Deniliquin Rice Mill operations would be:
Phase 1: Reduction of Deniliquin Mill 2 shift structure from 24/7 to 24/5 from January 2, 2019
Phase 2: Reduction of Deniliquin Mill 1 shift structure from 24/5 to 16/5 from January 31, 2019
Phase 3: From April 2019, Deniliquin Mill 1 will cease production and be placed into maintenance. Deniliquin Mill 2 shift reduced from 24/5 to 16/5.
Phase 4: From July/August, Deniliquin Mill 2 shift structure reduced from 16/5 to 8/5
The SunRice statement said its ‘‘priority at this time and throughout the process moving forward is the welfare of our employees. SunRice is focused on minimising the number of job losses and is exploring all available options with employees and unions to retain as many people as possible.
‘‘This includes options to relocate employees, job sharing and temporary leave. However, regrettably, the changes will mean a reduction in employee numbers across Riverina operations, with the company anticipating the loss of under 100 positions.’’
CEO Rob Gordon said: ‘‘The decision to reconfigure the Riverina milling operations in 2019 is necessary to ensure a competitive and sustainable business for our employees, growers, shareholders and the communities we support. SunRice remains firmly committed to its Riverina operations and will continue to be one of the region’s largest employers.’’
He said employees who lose their job will receive full entitlements and there would be full access to the Employee Assistance Program and outplacement services.
The Deniliquin Rice Mill was last closed during the Millennium Drought in 2007 and reopened in 2011 after significant rains the previous year.