THERE are fears 153 workers at the Bendigo Thales site could be stood down without pay for up to one month due to an overseas company’s financial difficulties disrupting the supply of engines for the $1.5 billion Hawkei contract.

Australian Army Major General Andrew Bottrell told a Senate Estimates hearing this week that the army had discussed with Thales what work the Bendigo staff could continue to do to keep their workforce employed, recognising the importance in retaining them for the future.

“They’ve not given me any indication of a need to stand those workers down,” he said.

The Austrian contractor’s financial struggles have delayed the development of engines for the Hawkei armoured vehicles, just months before the Bendigo site was due to go into full production mode.

Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said she became aware of the issue late last week after being contacted by Thales staff, and she was concerned the company had the ability to stand workers down for a month in accordance with the company’s employment agreements.

She said it was alarming that a company could get to this stage of a major contract and then have a supply issue which has such a profound knock-on effect to the workers.

“My frustration on behalf of all the workers and on behalf of Bendigo is that how did the government and the Department of Defence let it get to this stage where workers are being told in a meeting we might have to stand you down for the whole month of April?”

She demanded answers from the federal government over what she said was the mismanagement of the Hawkei contract at Thales in Bendigo.

Thales has issued a statement saying it continues to work with staff, suppliers, unions and Defence to minimise disruption to the Hawkei production schedule flowing from issues with the Hawkei engine supplier, Steyr Motors.

“We’re also working directly with the engine supplier to achieve continuity of supply, however some delays to the production schedule are unavoidable.

“Discussions with staff and unions are focused on managing the workforce through this period.”