ELECTRICIANS employed by Hastie Group were this morning summoned via SMS to a meeting to learn that they would be stood down without pay for 28 days.
Electrical Trades Union (ETU) Victorian secretary Dean Mighell said the company “won’t officially say” that the workers will let be go after the 28-day period.
“But some of the management are being quite candid about the fact that they’re going to be sacked,” Mr Mighell told news.com.au.
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) demanded Hastie clear up confusion about where the cuts would fall across the nation after 2700 workers were stood down.
AMWU NSW branch secretary Tim Ayres said 100 workers at the subsidiary group Austral Refrigeration had been given a written commitment that no jobs would be lost, but the position at other Hastie Group entities was unclear.
“I want to hear with absolute certainty which of these operations there’s job cuts in,” he said.
“There’s a very confused position across Australia and well over 2000 families are going to be really wondering what the future holds for them.”
Mick Doust from the ETU’s NSW branch said 600 electricians were being terminated from Hastie subsidiary Heyday.
“They’ve been informed that there is no money to pay them from this week and there’s no point coming to work,” he said.
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Mr Mighell said workers at Hasties were on a rostered day off today, after the company announced it had appointed voluntary administrators.
Around 500 Victorian workers received the text calling them to a meeting, where they were told that they had been stood down but were still employed.
Mr Mighell said the stand-down denies workers access to wages, unemployment benefits and redundancy payments.
Unions will seek legal advice.
A Sydney-based Hastie employee told news.com.au that all staff in their office “will be gone by end of the month”.
Some staff were stood down today, while others who have been paid until the end of the month will be stood down on Thursday.
Projects “still need doing”
This comes as Hastie’s administrator said it hopes that many of the 2700 employees who have been stood down may be able to return to work.
Ian Carson of PPB Advisory said many of the stood-down Hastie employees were working on contracted projects that still needed to be finished.
It was, therefore, possible that head contractors on the projects may be able to use the Hastie Group employees.
PPB Advisory, who are taking control of Hastie’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing businesses in Australia, earlier today said there were insufficient funds to continue to operate those businesses.
Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU) national secretary Peter Tighe said union leaders are hoping workers will be able to continue in the current roles under different contracts.
“The work’s got to be finished,” Mr Tighe said today.
“What we normally do is we’ll go to the principal contractor and argue that our boys should stay on for the duration of the project.
“The guys will turn up on site tomorrow and we’ll have organisers on site.”
Mr Doust said the ETU had occupied Heyday’s major sites across Sydney.
“We want to ensure that the electricians on those sites get some shot at continuing to do the work irrespective, of which electrical contractor might take over from Heyday.”
Hastie Group, which provides commercial and industrial air conditioning and refrigeration solutions in
Australia and New Zealand, had been in talks with banks and new investors to extend its loans last week, but they broke down when Hastie discovered an employee had been falsifying accounts.
The discrepancies are believed to have totalled a $20 million charge to profits this financial year.
Earlier this month Hastie conceded its earnings for the first half of the year would plummet from the anticipated $58 million down to zero.
That was after writedowns last November and a whopping $150 million deficit for the second half of last year.
Big four banks to take a hit
The crunch is set to hit the big four banks with an estimated $250 million in writedowns, with Hastie’s biggest lender ANZ understood to be owed $150 million, Fairfax reports.
Hastie and its 44 Australian subsidiary companies appointed PPB Advisory as voluntary administrators today, and McGrathNicol as receivers and managers.
A further 1300 people are employed in Hastie’s subsidiary businesses in Australia - Spectrum Fire and Safety, Hastie Services, Gordon Brothers Industries and Austral Refrigeration.
McGrathNicol, which has been appointed receivers and managers of those companies, said it would continue to trade on a business-as-usual basis.
“I would like to assure customers and employees that our appointment allows the Spectrum, Services, Gordon Brothers and Austral businesses to continue to operate with minimal disruption while we run an orderly sale campaign for each business,” McGrathNicol partner Peter Anderson said in a statement.
“We do not expect to make any significant structural changes to the businesses or their workforces.”
Hastie employs about 7000 workers across its operations in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Middle East.
Hastie provides services to the construction industry including electrical, plumbing and refrigeration.
Its Australian businesses – Spectrum Fire and Safety, Hastie Services, Gordon Brothers Industries and Austral Refrigeration – employ an estimated 2000 people.
The businesses are located in all states except Tasmania.
Deal expected quickly
A sale process for Austral began before administrators were called in, and a deal is expected to be completed quickly, McGrathNicol said.
PPB Advisory will control Hastie’s overseas businesses.
The UK and Ireland operations are profitable and continue to trade as normal, McGrathNicol said.
Hastie announced earlier in May that its first-half earnings would be reduced to zero, following two write-downs in November and a $150 million loss for the six months to December 31.
The accounting irregularities, which date back to the 2008/2009 financial year, are expected to add a $20 million charge to its profit for the current financial year.
The employee who admitted to altering figures had been suspended, and a second employee involved was expected to be disciplined.
The issue has been referred to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).
- with AAP