More than 500 workers at Clive Palmer’s Townsville nickel refinery will be sacked on Friday unless the troubled plant receives the relevant licences to continue operating.
A Palmer-owned company, Queensland Nickel Sales (QNS), took over as manager of the refinery on Monday after former manager Queensland Nickel, another of Mr Palmer’s businesses, went into voluntary administration.
In a statement released on Thursday, Queensland Nickel’s administrators FTI Consulting said it had on Thursday “notified the majority of Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd employees of their termination of employment, effective as of 5pm Friday”.
“Queensland Nickel Sales Pty Ltd, the newly appointed manager of the refinery, may offer current employees of Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd employment but the Administrators are currently unaware of the terms or timing of those offers,” it said.
“The administrators have impressed on Queensland Nickel Sales Pty Ltd the urgency of the situation.”
QNS said it could not re-employ the workers until it had been issued a new environmental licence by the state government.
The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) said QNS had applied for the transfer of the existing Environmental Authority on Wednesday.
“EHP is looking to have these applications processed this week,” it said.
The department is considering whether the new company can go ahead and re-employ staff while that process is underway.
It’s ‘game over red rover’ says union
— Jesse Dorsett (@jessedorsett) March 10, 2016
The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AWMU) has met with staff, who it says have been left in the dark.
Spokesman Cowboy Stockham said if their jobs went, he believed they would not receive their entitlements as Queensland Nickel had collapsed with 137 creditors.
“People have totally lost faith in Mr Palmer and the management teams there,” he said.
The Australian Workers’ Union’s Ben Swan said the refinery was already into care and maintenance and the rail contract with rail company Aurizon had been cancelled, meaning it was difficult getting ore.
“It’s game over red rover and they are out of a job, unless something spectacular happens,” he said.
“Not to say that in two weeks’ time they might get a new offer, but winding this thing back up is like climbing Everest.
“What can you say to people? The jobs are gone at 5:00pm Friday.”
Mr Palmer took over the refinery from BHP in 2009, when it was already 35 years old and carrying significant environmental liabilities.
Tailings dams at the plant contain thousands of tonnes of toxic waste products.
The cost of remediation has been estimated at between $40 million and several hundred million dollars.