THE workers at Darrell Lea knew something was up when they were told to stop the production lines and attend a meeting at 10.15am on Tuesday.
Employee of 14 years, Mick Mahine, said it was the first time the company had told them to shut down all the machines.
‘‘The team leader called everyone to the canteen and we had to shut down,’’ Mr Mahine said.
‘‘We were cooking liquorice and marshmallow and making Rocky Road.
‘‘We knew something was happening. The whole factory stopped; no one worked.’’
The employees were told the company was being forced into voluntary administration because it was unable to meet its ongoing financial obligations.
The administrator, PPB Advisory, told them the business was being reviewed so it could be sold off.
‘‘We were really shocked — no one asked questions because everyone was in shock,’’ Mr Mahine said.
‘‘Afterwards everyone was really upset.’’
Mr Mahine said the previous management had had a very good relationship with the workers, but this time they were kept in the dark. Not even the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), which represents 160 workers on site, was invited to give them support.
Mr Mahine said that they contacted the union after the meeting and a meeting was organised for that afternoon.
The national secretary of AMWU’s food and confectionary division, Jennifer Dowell, said a meeting with the administrators was planned for tomorrow (Friday).
Ms Dowell said the union had major concerns about the company and its intentions for paying the workers their full entitlements.
‘‘Obviously this did not happen in the last day,’’ she said.
‘‘You have to ask the question — if the company was getting further into debt then why didn’t it
change how it was doing things?
‘‘They didn’t talk to the workforce or to us. They treated the workforce incredibly badly.’’
Ms Dowell said that while they did not know the full extent of Darrell Lea’s money problems, the union believed there was ‘‘something fishy’’, which it was checking on.
‘‘We want to make sure the right people are held accountable and that they pay the workers’ entitlements, and not the taxpayer,’’ Ms Dowell said.
¦ Is there any advantage to Darrell Lea being broken up and sold off?
SHE said there was no guarantee a quick sale would keep the workers in jobs.
‘‘They’ve tried to sell it before and there is no guarantee that anyone will buy it in its current form,’’ she said.
‘‘Once the vultures start circling it could get broken up as buyers want some bits, like the plant and machinery, and not the workers.
‘‘If they are selling it we want to know the motives of the buyers.’’
Darrell Lea’s executive director, Michael Lea, could not be reached for comment.
¦ Trading was brisk yesterday at Darrell Lea shops at Westfield Miranda as shoppers stocked up on their favourite sweets, fearing that they might no longer be available.
Natalia Ghosn, a casual employee of three years, said it was a very busy day, probably on a par with Easter and Christmas.
Should the company be made to meet its financial obligations to the workers, or should the federal government pick up the bill?