Lactalis gags dairy workers after factory bombshell
ROCKHAMPTON'S 47 soon-to-be redundant Pauls factory workers are allegedly being gagged from speaking with the media after their employer, French company Lactalis, said they would risk losing their redundancy packages and entitlements.
An unnamed source told The Morning Bulletin the threat was issued on Wednesday when the company made the shock announcement to the workers that they intended to close their Rockhampton CBD factory on February 28.
Multiple workers approached by The Bulletin seeking their reactions to the closure have been unwilling to provide comment, lending weight to the allegation of the gag order.
Recognised as the world's largest dairy company, Lactalis has weathered a storm of criticism from politicians since its closure announcement.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk wrote to the company asking it to reconsider shutting down the factory and scaling back its Brisbane operation - just weeks after her government awarded it a lucrative contract to supply milk and yoghurt to Queensland hospitals.
In an interview with ABC radio, the Premier said Queensland Health had no idea about Lactalis' plan to scale back its work.
"I think it's a bit rich to get a contract and then basically, thumb your nose up at the workers in regional Queensland and if I was a worker in regional Queensland now I'd be pretty furious too," Ms Palaszczuk said.
"I've asked my Director-General to have a look at the terms of that contract, they may have to take other action but it's early stages yet.
"People's jobs and livelihoods are far more important than a company just making a blatant decision like this without giving it really any thought and I hope that they revisit it because these jobs mean a lot to people."
She acknowledged there were structural issues in the dairy industry including the impact of deregulation, and changes to the way people consumed milk but for now she remained focused on the continuing discussions with the company.
Keppel MP Brittany Lauga shared a copy of her letter to Lactalis Australia Chief Executive Ron Walken where she described the company's behaviour as "disgraceful" and demanded an urgent meeting to discuss the situation.
"Lactalis has betrayed their Rockhampton workforce that have shown them nothing but loyalty for over 30 years," Ms Lauga said.
"Lactalis has made this decision with no consultation with your Rockhampton workforce and it appears you have failed to even explore other alternatives than closing this factory.
She said the decision was going to have a devastating impact on these workers and their families and stressed the importance of Pauls taking every possible step to support these workers in this incredibly difficult time.
"Offering positions at other Lactalis factories is not good enough. Some of these families may wish to stay in the Rockhampton community, which they call home and Lactalis must work to ensure that these families are given the opportunity to transition into other employment in their local community," she said.
Ms Lauga also expressed concern about the potential impact of the closure on CQ's 20 dairy farms.
Rockhampton Region mayor Margaret Strelow said she was outraged and "bitterly disappointed" by Lactalis' decision and her thoughts were with the 47 workers at the site.
"This is yet another kick in the guts for Rockhampton, but we're resilient," she said.
"The workers will bounce back. And our community will bounce back- we always do.
"This has happened once too often to our community and we need a concerted and proactive effort to guarantee strong growth and a strong future for Rockhampton."
The mayor called on the Queensland Government to urgently convene an adjustment taskforce, made up of DSDMIP, DESBT, the Chamber of Commerce and Council to help ensure there was transitional support and positions were found for the displaced workers.
A media representative for Lactalis was unable to confirm whether a gag order was issued or whether further comments would be made addressing the criticism.