SIMPLOT is unlikely to secure financial assistance that could guarantee its operations at Devonport for longer than three years in a meeting with federal Industry Minister Ian McFarlane today.
The vegetable processor yesterday announced that its Devonport factory would remain open for at least another three years while it embarked on a $50 million upgrade designed to reduce its operating costs and cut its casual staff hours down from 140 full-time equivalent roles to 10, affecting about 250 casual workers.
Its factory in Bathurst, central New South Wales, fared worse, with 110 jobs gone as the plant is downgraded to only produce three products - frozen and canned corn and Chiko rolls.
Managing director Terry O'Brien said the Devonport factory was still on notice and may yet have to close if other costs, particularly associated with changes to its waste water treatment requirements, can't be offset.
``It's a final solution if our assumptions prove correct,'' Mr O'Brien said.
``Our assumptions are if we put a significant amount of capital into the plant, into efficiencies which allows us to improve our production and take a fairly large share of labour out, and at the same time we can keep our costs down, then it will work.''
Mr O'Brien said some looming costs, like a potential $9.5 million spend on a waste water treatment plant required under its agreement with TasWater, could make the company unviable. He also said the company would have little capacity to increase workers' wages or payments to growers, causing disquiet among the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and Tasmanian farmers.
The state government yesterday committed $500,000 towards the upgrades, and Deputy Premier Bryan Green said he was disappointed the federal government had not backed former prime minister Kevin Rudd's promise of $18 million across the Devonport and Bathurst plants.
Mr O'Brien said he had hoped for federal assistance, but said legislative changes like the repeal of the carbon tax would help.
``Governments should not have to prop up private businesses, but they do have the capacity to make a mess of private business, and over the last few years we have seen legislation and regulation that has impacted us,'' he said.
State deputy opposition leader Jeremy Rockliff said yesterday's announcement was ``bittersweet'' and called on the state government to intervene in the trade waste issue, which he said placed pressure on a number of North-West businesses.