SunRice cuts 100 more jobs, citing small harvests and water reform

SunRice has announced another 100 jobs will be cut across its Deniliquin and Leeton operations in 2020, taking the total number of jobs losses since November 2018 to 230.

The company issued a statement on Tuesday confirming the cuts, saying the crop due to be harvested in 2020 would be even smaller than the crop harvested earlier this year, which at 54,000 tonnes was the second-lowest on record.

The Deniliquin and Leeton mills will both remain open, but will each drop down to a single shift operation.

About 80 manufacturing and support staff will be made redundant, 55 from the Leeton facility and 25 from Deniliquin.

A further 20 staff from SunRice's subsidiary Australian Grain Storage, which operates at both sites, will lose their jobs.

SunRice chief executive Rob Gordon said the cuts would bring the total number of job losses at SunRice's Riverina operations to about 230 positions since reconfiguration commenced in November 2018.

"It is with deep regret we have been forced to make another series of changes to our Riverina operations ahead of the 2020 harvest," he said.

"We understand that these changes have been, and continue to be very unsettling, and we remain committed to providing as much notice as possible to our employees throughout the process.

"We will be doing all we can to support our employees and their families in the months ahead."

Mr Gordon said SunRice had taken significant steps, including offering record fixed price rice grower contracts to ensure a milling program can be maintained at its Deniliquin and Leeton facilities until at least early 2021.

"In normal production years these facilities employ approximately 600 people in the communities of Leeton and Deniliquin," he said.

"We also have significant rice storage and animal feed assets across the Riverina region which contribute to this employment. In such years, SunRice generates close to $400 million in direct expenditure in these communities."

Mr Gordon said although the company employed more than 2000 worldwide, "the heart of our business is in the Riverina, where our Australian rice is grown".

The announcement came as SunRice released a report, prepared by RMCG which identified "a series of unintended consequences of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan".

"Due to concerns, particularly from rice growers, around the allocation of General Security water in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, SunRice commissioned an external report from RMCG to investigate these issues," he said.

"Whilst the water reform process has been immensely complex, this report identifies unintended consequences associated with the rollout of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and with the NSW government's water allocation practices.

"The report shows those consequences include over recovery of water, significantly eroding the rights of General Security NSW irrigators, who grow rice and other annual crops.

"SunRice is currently engaging both federally and with the NSW government with the aim of addressing the inequities.

"SunRice remains committed to working with governments to identify win-win solutions that preserve the original intended outcomes of the Australian water reform process and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, to ensure a vibrant future for the world-class Australian rice industry.

"We have every confidence that if changes are made to policy settings to address these inequities, the rice industry will be able to bounce back as it did following the Millennium Drought."