SunRice to cut jobs

Shepparton News - Country News - - FRONT PAGE -

The fu­ture of up to 100 jobs is in doubt, with SunRice last Thurs­day an­nounc­ing plans to down­size its De­niliquin and Lee­ton rice mills.

Although un­clear how many of the De­niliquin mill’s cur­rent 152 em­ploy­ees will be let go, the town is ex­pected to bear the brunt of the down­siz­ing.

SunRice an­nounced the plan as a re­sult of ‘‘very low water avail­abil­ity and high water prices’’.

The 2019 rice crop size is ex­pected to be the sec­ond small­est recorded since the start of the mil­len­nium drought in 2003, with pre­dic­tions of as much as an 800 per cent re­duc­tion in vol­ume.

‘‘The de­ci­sion to re­con­fig­ure 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 chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Rob Gor­don said.

‘‘SunRice re­mains firmly com­mit­ted to its Rive­rina op­er­a­tions and will con­tinue to be one of the re­gion’s largest em­ploy­ers.’’

The pro­posed re­con­fig­u­ra­tion, which is sub­ject to con­sul­ta­tion with em­ploy­ees and unions, will see op­er­a­tional changes and shift re­struc­tur­ing at the De­niliquin and Lee­ton mills take ef­fect from Jan­uary 2, with the fi­nal phase to be ef­fec­tive from July or Au­gust next year.

Ed­ward River Coun­cil Mayor Norm Bren­nan said although not un­ex­pected, the news was a blow to the com­mu­nity.

The rice mill is the fourth big­gest em­ployer in the town.

‘‘A ma­jor­ity knew, with a nil al­lo­ca­tion of water, that there wasn’t a lot of rice go­ing in,’’ Cr Bren­nan said.

‘‘I think they’re ex­pect­ing 100 000 tonnes in­stead of the usual 700 000 or 800 000 tonnes.

‘‘There’s a busi­ness de­ci­sion they had to make . . . De­niliquin will likely take a larger per­cent­age (of the job cuts).’’

Cr Bren­nan said ef­forts were be­ing made to as­sist af­fected work­ers in find­ing new em­ploy­ment else­where around the re­gion, with two so­lar farms set to be­gin con­struc­tion in Blighty and Mayrung.

He said the job losses were a re­sult of not just drought or a poor sea­son, but the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan.

‘‘This is a di­rect re­sult of the basin plan’s fail­ure to pro­tect com­mu­ni­ties,’’ he said.

‘‘We haven’t got the bal­ance that should be there . . . The in­sis­tence of the (re­cov­er­ing the) 450 Gl ques­tions be­lief.’’

Rice Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Jeremy Mor­ton echoed Cr Bren­nan’s views and said the news was ‘‘very dis­tress­ing’’.

‘‘While the drought is a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor, there is no doubt that the basin plan is re­spon­si­ble for some of these peo­ple los­ing their job,’’ Mr Mor­ton said.

‘‘That is the power of water, be­cause with­out water we have noth­ing.’’

The De­niliquin Rice Mill was last closed dur­ing the mil­len­nium drought in 2007 and re­opened in 2011 after sig­nif­i­cant rains the pre­vi­ous year.

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