Hundreds of workers at Clive Palmer’s embattled Yabulu refinery have bid farewell to their colleagues and don’t know if they’ll work with them again.
Most of the refinery’s 550 workers had their employment officially terminated from 5pm Friday, four days after Clive Palmer took back control of operations with new company Queensland Nickel Sales.
One worker, who didn’t want to be named, told AAP people cried before leaving, even though their bosses have indicated they will get their jobs back.
He said he doubted half of them would return even if they were offered re-employment.
“(We were) all emotional and didn’t even know if we were going to show up next week,” the father-of-two said.
“We said farewell, a final farewell.”
Mr Palmer has promised to rehire workers once all relevant licences are cleared.
In an email sent to workers, Palmer’s nephew and company director, Clive Mensink, did not give any indication when people would be asked if they’d like to return.
“I would anticipate any offer of future employment would be on the same terms and conditions,” he said in the notice on Friday.
The refinery’s environmental authority has been transferred to Queensland Nickel Sales after a fast-tracked approval process.
Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles has criticised Mr Palmer for making the application on Wednesday, two days after he took the refinery off administrators.
He said the businessman-turned-politician should have known the authority was required.
“None of these approvals should have been news to him,” he said.
“There is now no excuse at all for him to allow these families to spend the weekend not knowing if they have a job on Monday.”
A spokesman for the company told AAP there were around 20 authorisation hurdles, understood to relate to workplace health and safety, to be cleared before the refinery could re-open under Queensland Nickel Sales.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace says the company has been asked on two occasions to provide information needed for the transfer of a major hazard license.
Approval should take around 24 hours once the information is provided, she said.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who visited the refinery on Friday, said he’d asked the prime minister to give retrenched workers access to the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, which is usually reserved for liquidation but can be broadened on ministerial discretion.
Mr Shorten said he thought some of the company’s senior management had not treated affected workers with due respect and called for an investigation into related party transactions.
The refinery’s former operator, Queensland Nickel Pty Ltd, went into voluntary administration in January, just days after 237 workers were sacked.
Those retrenched workers are yet to receive entitlements.
“You just can’t trust Clive,” the worker who has been employed at the refinery for almost six years said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Clive Palmer or Clive Mensink, nobody trusts them.”
Dr Miles released a statement late on Friday saying his department had issued enforcement orders demanding Queensland Nickel Sales take action to ensure the environment is protected.
The notice was issued after the new operator failed to show that it had enough resources to comply with obligations set out by the environmental authority.
Criminal charges could be laid if it fails to comply.
Dr Miles said of most concern was that tailing dams, which hold by-products from the refining process, continue to operate, especially given the refinery sits near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Meanwhile, media are reporting the Port of Townsville has confirmed administrators have cancelled ore shipments due to arrive on Tuesday.