SunRice slashes jobs

By Zoe McMaugh

The Federal Government must develop a "bail-out package" for SunRice.

That's the message from NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton, following the announcement last week another 100 jobs would be lost from the Deniliquin and Leeton rice mills.

Implemented from early next year, the new ‘reconfiguration’ was prompted by predictions of a significantly reduced rice crop for 2020.

Early indications are the 2020 crop will be lower than the 54 000 tonnes delivered this year, which is the second lowest on record for the company.

The announcement brings the number of jobs rationalised at the food company to about 230 in the past 12 months.

‘‘This was quite avoidable, because there is water there to grow food,’’ Mrs Dalton said.

‘‘The rivers are running so hard, but it's all going to the end of the system at South Australia and out to sea.

While SunRice has been able to keep both Deniliquin and Leeton Mills open, it has said the small plantings for 2020 mean operations will drop to a one shift operation at both mills, commencing from the end of the first quarter of 2020.

As a result, 80 manufacturing and support staff will be affected. Another 20 staff at SunRice’s storage subsidiary, Australian Grain Storage, will also be impacted.

SunRice chief executive officer Rob Gordon said the predicted 2020 crop size was despite significant steps by the company to promote rice growing this season.

It included putting record prices to growers in August 2019 in a bid to stimulate plantings.

While lower than expected, the uptake has ensured that a milling program should be maintained at the Deniliquin and Leeton mills until at least early 2021.

A report commissioned by SunRice said there was a direct link with what was happening at the company and water policy being implemented across the nation, and particularly the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘In normal production years these facilities employ approximately 600 people in the communities of Leeton and Deniliquin. We also have significant rice storage and animal feed assets across the Riverina region which contribute to this employment,” SunRice said.

‘‘In such years, SunRice generates close to $400 million in direct expenditure in these communities.

‘‘SunRice is an Australian company that has been operating for almost 70 years, and now sells value-added branded rice products into more than 50 markets around the world.

‘‘While we are a thriving, resilient and global business, generating annual revenues of $1.2 billion and employing more than 2000 people around the world, the heart of our business is in the Riverina, where our Australian rice is grown, and where we own significant rice processing facilities.

‘‘We understand that these changes have been, and continue to be very unsettling, and we remain committed to providing as much notice as possible to our employees throughout the process. We will be doing all we can to support our employees and their families in the months ahead.”