About 60 employees working on concrete sections for the West Gate Tunnel project at LS Precast were made redundant on Thursday.
However, The Ensign has been forwarded two letters sent to LS Precast employees which imply this may just be the tip of the iceberg.
One, dated May 24, outlines that due to delays on work at the West Gate tunnel project site LS Precast's current continuous rotating shifts will be reduced to one day shift.
The second letter, which is not dated, is requesting voluntary redundancies. It also states that the operational changes outlined in the other letter would be implemented as of June 8.
Work on the West Gate Tunnel project has come to a standstill following a dispute over the disposal of contaminated soil at the site and is not expected to start again for several months.
The news is a blow to Benalla; the massive concrete facility — initially expected to create more than 400 local jobs — had quickly become one of the region's biggest employers.
While the recruitment drive to fill all those positions had been ongoing since the site opened, the reverse in fortunes will see a negative knock-on effect in Benalla at a time when the economy is already struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ensign was contacted by six different people last week who had been let go, and while none were willing to go on the record and publicise their own name, all wanted the news to be reported.
Regional Development Minister Jaclyn Symes said she was disappointed with tunnel contractors CPB and John Holland.
“There is no reason whatsoever for Transurban’s builders CPB and John Holland to sack these local workers,” Ms Symes said.
“It’s disgraceful — Transurban entered a deal with its builders and they’ve had three years to find a spoil site — these local workers should not be punished because of their stoush.”
Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan echoed that sentiment.
“While businesses across Australia are going to extraordinary lengths to keep staff on, Transurban’s builders sacking these local workers because they can’t resolve their petty dispute — it’s an outrage,” Ms Allan said.
“Transurban entered into a deal with its builders, CPB and John Holland, and they’ve had three years to find a spoil site. It’s their failure, and they need to fix it.”
The spoil disposal referenced is regarding the contaminated soil at the site, which has stalled the project.
Member for Euroa Steph Ryan said the decision was devastating news for local workers who had made decisions based on having long-term secure jobs.
"It is a triple whammy for Benalla when we have just received the news of Target's closure and businesses are struggling with the coronavirus lock-downs,” Ms Ryan said.
"LS Precast is meat in the sandwich here between the Andrew's Government and the builders of the West Gate Tunnel.
"The government has stuffed the project up by rushing into it without resolving contamination issues.
"Labor MPs were quick to claim credit for these jobs when they were created.
"They can't now walk away claiming it is the contractor's fault.”
Benalla Mayor Danny Claridge said the redundancies were a concern.
"Council are always concerned about any redundancies in Benalla, but sadly this type of thing is outside our control,” he said.
"The government and contractors need to come up with a solution to the contaminated soil issue.”
LS Precast, Transurban CPB and John Holland were contacted for comment, but declined.