CARTER Holt Harvey (CHH) management at the Myrtleford timber mill have been told to take indefinite leave as the company weighs up its future in the town.
It comes days after 184 workers narrowly voted down the company’s new pay deal – and any chance to end the lockout – on Friday.
Only security guards man the factory after management and staff – on different contracts to the factory workers – were told to take leave this week.
Bargaining representative for 56 employees, Enzo D’Andrea said the company owner maintained the mill ran at a loss.
During a phone meeting between Mr D’Andrea’s party and CHH chief executive Prafull Kesha on Tuesday, Mr Kesha said the company owner New Zealand businessman Graeme Hart questioned him every day about the mill’s viability.
Mr Kesha said he wanted to give the business a chance.
“The company cannot keep loading this business with chances and the company will not keep going unless the dispute resolves,” Mr Kesha told the meeting.
“The company does see a profit when the bleeding stops.”
John Suta Legal principal John Suta is acting on behalf of non-union workers to help the parties resolve the dispute.
“Of great concern was that Mr Kesha said the company would put the business under and will make the tough calls if necessary,” Mr Suta said.
Mr D’Andrea said the only way forward was another secret ballot on the pay deal already on the table.
“From our group’s point of view we believe it’s a fair offer,” he said.
“My guys are very concerned; some of them are living on food parcels and petrol vouchers and they’ve had to put off paying their rates and other bills.
“They can’t get through for much longer, they can barely get through until tomorrow.”
Shift fitter Craig King said the company had planned major investments in the plant before the industrial relations stalemate.
Mr King said the plans had been put on hold when the onsite sub-station failed in the past 12 months.
“When the sub-station blew up it had to be fixed at a cost of $500,000,” he said.
“Improvements had to be put back to give time to re-coup that money, but there was talk of redoing the log yard and bringing in a new debarker to replace one on its last legs.”
Carter Holt Harvey’s Myrtleford workers have been locked out of the factory for more than 50 days after unions threatened industrial action over a pay deal impasse.
Carter Holt Harvey representatives have declined to comment to The Border Mail.
Carter Holt Harvey Woodproducts Australia is owned by the Rank Group Limited, New Zealand businessman Graeme Hart’s private investment company.
According to Forbes magazine, Mr Hart is New Zealand's richest man and is now worth an estimated $13.6 billion.