BIG EMPLOYER: W.E. Smith produces equipment for the global energy and mining sectors from its base in Boambee.
BIG EMPLOYER: W.E. Smith produces equipment for the global energy and mining sectors from its base in Boambee. Rob Wright

W.E. Smith promises new contracts will honour unpaid wages

WORKERS at a Coffs Coast manufacturing firm are owed thousands of dollars in unpaid wages, forcing some employees to find other jobs.

As of Monday, 80 workers at W.E. Smith's Boambee factory will be owed between six to seven weeks in unpaid wages as well as 11 months' superannuation.

W.E. Smith's management said the company was finalising new contracts, and wages and entitlements would be paid according to improved cash flows.

But several employees - who did not want to be named publicly - told The Advocate they had not been offered assurances of when that would occur.

The employees said non-payment of their wages had been a recurring issue.

In May last year, the company entered into voluntary administration and was taken over by KPL Group under a deed of company arrangement.

The move was backed by W.E. Smith's creditors on KPL's promise of new investment under contracts signed with engineering firm Borsig Services Australia.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union claims W.E. Smith attributed the non-payment of wages to delays in finalising those contracts.

W.E. Smith chief executive William Vanvliet said stable cash flows were expected from March.

Mr Vanvliet confirmed the company secured a $6 million contract with Borsig on December 21 and work was due to commence as soon as possible.

He said W.E. Smith was also in the process of signing a second $6 million contract for work over the next two years.

"Workers will be paid their wages according to the improved cash flows, which come directly out of the Borsig deal," Mr Vanvliet said in a statement.

"We acknowledge it's been a challenging time for workers and staff … (and) at the moment I'm meeting with investors to support growth into the future.

"We expect stable cash flows from March onwards… and in the middle of this year we are looking to expand our workforce."

An employee told The Advocate workers were determined to see the factory remain open.

"A lot of guys are hanging onto the belief that we will get some materials into the factory and the situation will turn around," the employee said.

"It's been tough but we want to do everything we can for the company.

"W.E. Smith is a big employer in Coffs Harbour and contributor to local suppliers." The employee said the company had negotiated individual non-paid leave agreements for workers looking to find temporary work elsewhere.

AMWU industrial officer Todd Nickle said employees were also in ongoing consultation with the Fair Work Commission and Fair Work Ombudsman to reach an employment strategy.

"The alternative is to go to the Federal Court, but the employees are nervous that would result in potentially winding the business up," Mr Nickle said.

"People can't live off thin air and the employees are counting on things pulling through."