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Special Report: Queensland Nickel

Shipping nickel ore for the Yabulu Refinery from the Port of Townsville.RIGHT FROM THE get-go, the events unfolding at Queensland Nickel have both shocked and surprised everyone involved from the unions through to administrators. Clive Palmer has dragged the business from one crisis point to another with no regard for the security and well – being of his employees.

As many will be aware, we witnessed the sacking of 237 employees on a Friday morning in January, and the business (Queensland Nickel Industries) was placed under administration early the following Monday.

This has had the effect of leaving those employees without access to accrued entitlements until the administration process is complete. FTI Consulting (the administrators) assumed control of the business. Through the course of the administration process it was revealed that the overall operation consisted of three companies; Queensland Nickel Industries, Queensland Nickel Resources, and Queensland Nickel Metals. QN Resources and QN Metals had ownership of the plant and asset s, and QN Industries was the shell company that paid wages and contractors.

QN Industries had also been utilised as a guarantor for other Palmer business loans.

On March 7th it was announced that QN Resources and QN Metals had appointed another company owned by Palmer to assume operations of the business – Queensland Nickel Sales. This was a move designed to take back control of the business from FTI Consulting.

There was talk during the course of the week that employees would be offered employment with QN Sales but this did not eventuate despite efforts of the State Government to authorise all the relevant operating licences. Friday 11 th March brought about another black day in this ongoing saga. Administrators, FTI, were left with little choice but to sack the remaining 500 employees.

FTI have an obligation to act in the best interest of creditors and were essentially left with control of a company under administration with very little in the way of assets, and no ongoing revenue stream.

We also learned that all nickel ore shipments were cancelled. In a meeting with administrators on Wednesday, 16th March Union Representatives learned that FTI had made all efforts to allow a smooth transition of business by signing over relevant licences and attempting to mediate on matters such as ore shipments in an effort to maintain the employment of workers. Queensland Nickel Sales refused to co – operate. It is now being reported that the plant may not reopen until mid – year as there is no ore to process .

Workers fear that the plant may not be able to ramp up again if it is left under – utilised for such a long period.

To date, there are now a total of more than 700 local Townsville employees that are still awaiting news of what will happen with accrued entitlements such as annual and sick leave, redundancy, as well as separation payments which were not paid.

As the business is under administration they have to wait to see if the company goes into liquidation. If this is the case and the company is unable to pay these entitlements, employees are able to access the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG).

There is also an allowance for the Minister for Employment to use their discretion to allow earlier access to FEG.

FTI Consulting informed us that they had written to the Minister to request this early access for QN employees. At the time of writing we are awaiting further notification/movement on employee access to these entitlements.

Throughout the entire process so far, what we have seen is a consistent theme of dishonesty and underhanded actions and words from the Palmer camp.

Workers have been faced with a barrage of lies coated in the thinnest veneer of an element of truth. An example of this took place just prior to the first round of sackings. Clive Palmer denied he had approached the Queensland State Government to seek a guarantor for a loan. The truth was, Clive had not physically been in the room, but he had sent representatives to make that request. This distortion of truth was evident i n media interviews with Clive Palmer where he volunteered assets from Waratah Coal and China First to underwrite QN operations. Clive had made the offer, but it was highly unlikely and debatable as to whether the assets were worth as much as he professed. Employees now await their next creditors’ meeting with FTI to decide whether the business goes into liquidation or continues to trade. This meeting is set to take place on the 22 nd of April. If what has happened at Queensland Nickel has taught us any thing, it has taught us that what happens between now and the creditors’ meeting is anyone’s guess. We will continue to provide support to our members as events unfold.

But make no mistake; it is Clive Palmer who has inflicted this misery on more than 700 workers in a manner that has been cruel and entirely calculated throughout the prolonged and ongoing process.

from Queensland MUA Branch News No 35 23 March 2016
Articles include: Vale Pat Geraghty, Brussels Attacks, Queensland Nickel, DP World Solidarity, Delegate Training, May Day

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