RALLY DAY: Aurizon workers devastated about losing their jobs have gathered out the front of the company's Bolsover St workshop.
RALLY DAY: Aurizon workers devastated about losing their jobs have gathered out the front of the company's Bolsover St workshop. Luke Mortimer

Sugar giant hasn't given up on North Queensland rail

ROCKHAMPTON rail workers have protested over the announcement that Aurizon was closing its workshop that would see 181 workers out of a job.

Men who had worked on the railway for 30 years choked up as they now faced an uncertain future with a mortgage and family.

And there will be little comfort from management as one worker said he felt "angry, empty, what do you do?"

Aurizon's head of operations Michael Carter said the changes were needed to keep the business competitive.

Mr Carter said both technology and efficiencies found in its workshops unravelled plans to expand its Rockhampton workshop.

"What's actually happened over the last few years is increased technology and efficiency on our train operations has meant there is nowhere near as much work needed at the workshop," he said.

"We are always trying to look at what's the best decision for our business at the time."

The announcement also shed light on what would happen to the 29 crew workers in Mackay that have been working on the Wilmar contract that was set to expire in December.

Aurizon made it clear it in February that it wouldn't renew the contract with Wilmar and confirmed Thursday those workers would be let go.

Member for Dawson George Christensen spoke with Aurizon in his Canberra office as the announcement was being made.

"They assured me that all pay, entitlements and significant redundancy payments will be issued to workers as it should be because its the law," he said.

"But ongoing employment for those not near retirement age is the most important thing."

But it might not be all bad for those workers, with Wilmar Sugar Australia committed to continuing running that service and keeping its logistics services off the road.

A Wilmar spokesperson confirmed that it was close to finalising a contract with rail operator Pacific National for the haulage of raw sugar between Wilmar mills and the ports in North Queensland.

"Our current rail haulage arrangements with Aurizon end at the conclusion of the 2017 crushing season, and so we invited a number of rail operators from within and outside Queensland - including Aurizon - to put proposals to us for a new, long term agreement", said Wilmar's executive general manager, North Queensland, John Pratt.

"The outcome of a rigorous process of review that followed is that Wilmar will partner with Pacific National.

"While Aurizon did make an offer in the process, that offer was withdrawn with an indication that sugar haulage no longer aligned with their business priorities.

"Rail is our preferred mode of transport for raw sugar and Wilmar will work with PN and the State Government to ensure a sustainable long term solution".

A Pacific National spokesperson confirmed that work was already underway on design and fabrication of new wagons that would be used to haul Wilmar's sugar to port.

"We are looking forward to working with Wilmar", she said. "We have a number of major customers in Queensland and this further strengthens our commitment to the North".

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