WORKERS have been told to trade in their generous perks to guarantee the future of SPC Ardmona as the Government drew a line in the sand on rescue packages.
Federal Cabinet voted to reject a request for $ 25 million for the Shepparton cannery following a marathon three-hour discussion in Canberra on Thursday, with ministers split on the issue.
Criticised as a “significant setback” by Victorian Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, the Federal Opposition said it would cost the Government far more in welfare payments if the company went to the wall.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the restructure was the sole responsibility of the business, suggesting a future was possible if workers’ “pretty extraordinary EBA” was “very extensively renegotiated”.
The country town was in shock following the announcement and many were left contemplating where they will turn.
Silversons Orchards owner Elizabeth Silverstein, who relies on demand from SPC Armoda to feed her family including husband Bo and sons Callan, 9, and Jaeger, 3, said she was very disappointed by the decision.
Ms Silverstein said she was worried about Shepparton’s future as the whole community would be affected.
“It’s about more than just money, you’re talking about a population of 70,000 that will lose a sense of identity if SPC closes down,” she said.
The decision will set the scene for talks with Toyota, which want its workers to alter their enterprise bargaining agreement.
“The best thing a government can do for the workers of Australia is not to borrow money to give it to highly profitable businesses like Coca-Cola,” Mr Abbott said, pointing to parent company Coca-Cola Amatil’s half-yearly profit of $ 216 million.
“Given the strength of the parent, given the new product lines that are coming, given the parent’s willingness to renegotiate the EBA, yes, I am very confident that this is a business which has a strong future.”
Industry Minister Ian MacFarlane said the decision was “a defining point” for industry policy, with the Government not prepared to borrow to give to companies.
He said the workers were Coca-Cola’s responsibility.
Opposition industry spokesman Kim Carr said the company had warned him it would need to significantly scale back or completely close without the package.
Mr Ryan called it “a significant setback for Goulburn Valley communities and Victoria”.
Coca-Cola Amatil will now review SPC Ardmona’s value, with a writedown of its assets to be announced next month.