Norco is laying off 170 workers at a flood-damaged ice factory in south Lismore

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One hundred and seventy workers at a Lismore ice cream factory are out of work today and do not know if they will receive severance pay after the company failed to find enough money to keep them.

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.

It expired today and Norco said its farmers could not continue to pay employee wages while there was no commercial output from the plant, with 170 employees being laid off.

Norco estimated the total cost of the flood damage to be $141.8 million and that a bid for a $35 million in joint federal and state grants fell far short of the estimated $70 million needed to rebuild the factory next to Wilsons River.

The dairy cooperative remains in negotiations with both levels of government over whether to accept the grant and is asking for an additional $9 million.

Factory staff told the ABC today they had again been left in limbo while management and the board decided whether to rebuild the plant and if or when they would receive severance payments.

A group of workers in hi-vis gather around union secretaries in a factory.
Cory Wright and Justin Smith address Norco workers on their last day.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union state secretary Cory Wright said workers would not have clarity until after the Norco board met on Thursday.

“Today was supposed to be D-Day … now there’s still a big cloud of uncertainty hanging over the entire workforce here at Norco,” he said.

Sir. Wright said he could see staff were under “pain and stress” with “the lack of uncertainty clearly exacerbated”.

“All the pressure they’ve been under since February, we can see the mental toll on every single worker in the factory,” he said.

A man in a dark blue polo shirt stands with his hands on his hips in front of a locked gate.
Cory Wright spoke to staff at Norco’s Lismore ice cream factory.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

The union is calling for voluntary redundancy packages to be considered with the option of returning to work at the plant if it is rebuilt and back in operation.

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

After meetings with management over the past two days, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union is feeling hopeful about the plant’s future for the first time since the floods.

“There are certainly few indicators in our conversations that they are moving toward an operation back at this location,” said department secretary Justin Smith.

“It’s more about the time frames that they’ve used to make a decision and ask you for another week, it’s just frustrated these workers tremendously and it’s filtering through the community.”

A man with a gray beard wearing a black shirt stands in front of a brick factory.
Justin Smith says there are some positive signs at Norco.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Smith said it was time Norco “put some skin in the game” and used their own money to secure the plant’s future for the local community.

“Wherever the government is, they have given more money to Norco than anywhere else in the Northern Rivers and these places are up and running,” he said.

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Norco lays off 170 workers despite bailout offer

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