THE quality of the workforce is being cited as the reason Kiewa’s 125-year-old dairy factory will remain open under new owner Saputo.
The Canadian company, which took over the business from Murray Goulburn last week, told staff on Monday it would keep running the plant that makes creamed cheese.
Saputo president and chief operating officer Kai Bockmann delivered the good news to about 50 of the 70 staff who remained at the factory after milk production ended last year.
An email was sent to staff on Friday night flagging the lunchroom meeting but worker and union delegate Andrew ‘Snags’ Cameron said it did not offer any insight into what might unfold.
“When he said ‘the place is going to stay open’ everyone was pretty happy about it and there was a clap of hands,” Mr Cameron said.
In a statement, company CEO and board chair Lino Saputo said he was “pleased” to keep the factory open.
“We appreciate the uncertainty that employees at the Kiewa site have experienced in recent times and extend gratitude to them for their loyalty,” Mr Saputo said.
“We also want to thank the community and the Kiewa farmer suppliers for their dedication.
“We now look forward to working together to make Kiewa successful.”
National Union of Workers organiser Neil Smith said the Saputo executives told him after Monday’s meeting that it was the drive and skill of the Kiewa staff that saved the plant from closure.
“They said when they spoke to the people there that it was a real eye-opener,” Mr Smith said.
“They found these people are integral to the place and that it was a great workplace.”
Mr Cameron said “it’s great they think so much of the employees”.
“They came out and shook everyone’s hand, we’ve never had that before,” he said.
“Normally the boss would come and tell us what we’re doing wrong and then walk out.”
Mr Smith, who had been pushing to keep the factory open, hopes Saputo will boost cheese production and suggested the decision left ajar the possibility of milk processing returning.
“I’m elated for the community, that’s what it’s about,” he said.
“They’re real, good secure permanent jobs and they’re not around anymore – to have that place set back up for future generations is a great moment.”
When he visited the factory in November, Mr Saputo said “the Kiewa plant was not part of our plans” because it had not been subject to due diligence as part of the purchase of Murray Goulburn.