AUSTRALIA – Dairy giant Norco has set aside more than AU$59 million (US$36.88m) to rebuild its flood-damaged ice cream factory in the NSW Northern Rivers, weeks after standing down workers.

The factory, which sits on the banks of the Wilsons River in South Lismore, was forced to close after the catastrophic February floods, leaving more than 200 workers uncertain of their future.

The dairy cooperative has announced that it would rebuild the factory with AU$34.7million (US$21.69m) from a federal and NSW government flood package, along with AU$11 million (US$6.88m) from an outstanding 2019 grant from the state’s Regional Growth Fund.

The company, which will also contribute more than $59 million to the rebuild, estimated to total more than $100 million (US$62.59m), said Norco stood down workers last month, saying the $34.7 million grant from state and federal governments was not enough to save the factory.

The dairy giant noted that the factory would be rebuilt on the original site with key equipment to be lifted above 15 meters as well as the addition of mezzanine areas.

Chief executive Michael Hampson said 105 staff had been stood down from the farmer-owned co-operative because there was no work for them during the rebuild.

The layoffs had prompted three unions to meet Norco management, urging certainty for staff. The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union’s Justin Smith said workers should receive voluntary redundancies and a guarantee their jobs would be available when the factory reopened.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said on October 5 that there had been no further updates on the future of the Norco workforce.

Hampson, however, noted that the company aimed for production to gradually resume from April, with workers returning progressively over months as various lines came on board.

“Lismore is the home of Norco, we’re founded in the Lismore region and we’ll be able to get this manufacturing facility back up and running and invite our people back to work here to make Australia’s best ice cream,” he said.

“Norco will be taking on a greater level of risk, something we’re prepared to do to safeguard jobs, support other small and medium businesses in the region, and offer a sense of hope to a community of people who have already endured so much.”

Hampson sarcastically said Lismore is a town that’s had 100 floods and this factory has survived 100 of them.

He said the flood the plant could not handle was the mega-flood that was experienced in February which is a one-in-500-year event.

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