Told to go home

IT took little more than 10 minutes yesterday for dozens of Watters Electrical workers in Albury to learn they had been stood down for 28 days.

Employees had turned up for work as usual yesterday morning but were told administrators had been appointed “so don’t bother”.

Watters is part of engineering firm the Hastie Group, from which as many as 2700 jobs nationally could be lost.

Hastie is under threat through insolvency and after an employee admitted to falsifying accounts.

One man who has worked for Watters for more than 10 years said they had been told “bugger all”.

“We’re all in limbo,” he said.

“We can’t even go down to Centrelink because we haven’t been fired.

“It wasn’t a great shock, we stopped trading on the stock exchange a few weeks ago, they couldn’t hide that.”

Workers were told only to turn up for the afternoon meeting with the administrator.

About 80 of them began arriving at the company’s Bennu Circuit, East Albury, headquarters just before 2pm yesterday to officially learn their fate.

The Electrical Trades Union’s Victorian branch made an “urgent” application to Fair Work Australia yesterday afternoon to have what it called the wrongful stand-down of Watters Electrical workers reversed.

A mass meeting of about 300 Watters Electrical workers — the business also has offices in Shepparton, Cobram, Port Melbourne and Bendigo — will be held in North Melbourne at 10am today.

“The administrator has committed an act of corporate bastardry to our members at Watters by keeping them notionally ‘employed’ but in reality having them stood down without pay,” branch secretary Dean Mighell said.

The atmosphere before the Albury meeting was subdued.

After they filled out paper­work, the gates to the back car park were closed and the workers were shepherded to the back of the site.

By 2.20pm the gates at the $1 million warehouse and office at the Albury Airport Park industrial estate were reopened and several staff began to leave, only to be called back for a beer.

“We got told not to talk about it,” one worker said as he headed to get something out of his car, beer in hand, before heading back in.

Another said it was “not worth saying anything” as he was concerned if he did it might jeopardise him keeping his job “if the company then goes and gets bought”.

Most workers approached by The Border Mail declined to say anything about what they had been told, some shrugging their shoulders and worried about the consequences of speaking out.

“Nothing, there’s nothing going on,” another worker said.

When asked what had taken place, the first worker to head out the gates before the beers were brought out replied: “I think it’s quite obvious. Didn’t you listen to the news?”.

Most workers, seemingly resigned to having to hope for the best for the business’ resurrection, were relatively upbeat as they headed home.

One subcontractor, who also did not want to be named, said he was owed more than $100,000.

“I heard the news on the radio so I thought I’d come and see what was going on,” he said.

The subcontractor said he had a family and employees to support.

“It’s disappointing but we’ll get through it,” he said.

He wasn’t allowed into the 2pm meeting, which was for employees only, and had to wait until it was over to glean the details from employees as they left the property.

Another man simply said “it sucks”.

A locksmith was at the office changing the locks.

Staff were asked to hand over the keys to cars and vans; one worker quickly grabbed his belongings from his work car before doing so.

Wives, family members and friends began picking up staff from about 2.25pm.

By 2.45pm most had headed home.

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