About 200 Hunter workers who are facing an uncertain Christmas – possibly with 15 days worth of wages missing from their pockets – are being urged to fight for their entitlements at a creditors’ meeting for one of Australia’s oldest engineering firms, which went into administration last week.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union says RCR Tomlinson employees face the possible loss of long-service leave and other accumulated entitlements and allege they have been short-changed more than a month worth of superannuation, which it estimated to be about $1000 per employee.
The union says workers were told they must continue to go to work or risk losing their entitlements when the company was placed in voluntary administration on November 21.
Employees who are owed money are listed as creditors for the business and the AMWU wants workers to make the union their proxy for Monday’s meeting.
AMWU NSW assistant secretary Cory Wright told the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday many Hunter workers were too scared to speak publicly about the situation, for fear they would not receive what they were owed.
Mr Wright said he was aware of several who had to cancel holidays, including overseas trips, during the Christmas period and "now workers are literally faced with not being able to buy Christmas presents”.
“The situation is workers turned up one day, after working as normal they were just told there was no money there and they can’t be paid,” he said.
“They were told they have to keep turning up to work otherwise their entitlements might be in jeopardy.
“Everyone is just really nervous and everyone is worried and no-one knows what to do.
“Employee entitlements should be absolutely secure.”
McGrathNicol Restructuring was appointed RCR Tomlinson’s administrator last week.
The administrator declined to comment when contacted on Wednesday.
Mr Wright said RCR Tomlinson employees, whether they were members of the union or not, should contact the AMWU’s Cardiff office this week ahead of Monday’s meeting.
He said employees should be paid every cent of their entitlements “before the banks get their cut”.
“We won’t leave one stone unturned to make sure every entitlement and super is returned to these workers as soon as possible,” he said.
The Commonwealth government’s Fair Entitlements Guarantee will provide back-pay for employees if the administrator cannot find enough money to fund the wage backlog.
But the Herald understands the Fair Entitlements Guarantee would not pay the superannuation shortfall or provide money to pay-out entitlements such as long-service leave.
Mr Wright said he did not believe workers would receive their fortnight’s wages before Christmas and it would likely take six to 12 months if it becomes a Fair Entitlements Guarantee matter.
He said the administrators had committed to paying the employees, moving forward.
RCR Tomlinson has been operating since 1898 and has more than 3000 employees across Australia.
The firm has staff working at Liddell and Eraring power stations, Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group’s coal loader as well as a workshop at Bennetts Green.
According to a publicly available financial report the company published in September, managing director and CEO Dr Paul Dalgleish was entitled to “termination payments of 12 months salary” when he departed the firm on August 6.
The report lists his salary, fees and allowances as being $979,951 in 2018 and $980,384 in 2017.
The Australian Financial Review reported this week that McGrathNicol Restructuring was hired on August 14 for “contingency planning” for a potential voluntary administration two weeks before RCR Tomlinson raised $100 million from investors. But the firm was placed in administration on November 21.
A second meeting will be called for creditors to decide on the company’s future, after the administrators give their opinion.
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