SUNRICE announced on Thursday morning there will be job losses at its Leeton and Deniliquin mills as a result of a predicted smaller rice harvest this year.
The cuts are a result of “reconfiguring milling and packaging operations in response to the significantly reduced Riverina rice crop anticipated in 2016”.
The company said it remained committed to the Riverina region and the decision to implement changes in operations followed an extensive review process.
The proposed changes, which are subject to consultation with employees and unions, will include:
- At Deniliquin Mill, milling and associated functions will reduce from the current two mills operating on a 24-hour x five-day shift pattern, to one mill operating on a 24-hour x five-day shift pattern, and the other mill on an eight-hour x five-day shift pattern.
- At Leeton Mill, milling and associated functions will reduce from a 24-hour x seven-day shift pattern, to a 24-hour x five-day shift pattern.
These changes are expected to take effect from late April.
SunRice will work to minimise the number of job losses and is exploring all available options with employees and unions to retain as many people as possible in the business.
This includes options to re-locate staff, job sharing and temporary leave.
However the changes will mean a reduction in staff numbers across Riverina operations, with the company anticipating fewer than 50 positions will be lost.
The company has invested around $80 million in its Riverina assets over the last three years, with an additional $6 million capital investment program recently completed at Deniliquin Mill.
These investments continue to position the business and its Riverina operations well for the future, particularly for when crops return to normal levels.
SunRice chief executive officer Rob Gordon said the priority now was employees.
“We understand this is a difficult and uncertain time for some of our staff and their families and, with this in mind, we have communicated details of the reconfiguration as early as possible,” he said.
“We are also committed to finalising the process as soon as possible to provide staff with certainty.
“For those employees that will leave the business as part of the process, we will ensure that they and their families have full access to our employee assistance program and outplacement services.
“While difficult, the decision to reconfigure Riverina milling operations in 2016 is necessary to ensure an ongoing, sustainable business for employees, shareholders and the communities we support.
“SunRice is well positioned to manage variations in annual production through a number of tools, including strategic sourcing of rice from other locations, to ensure we are able to maintain and grow the markets into which we place Riverina rice, especially when larger crops return.
“Despite the 2016 Riverina crop being significantly smaller than the crop harvested in 2015, SunRice remains well positioned for ongoing growth, with both the profit and paddy businesses continuing to perform strongly.”