Workers in the tiny town of Girgarre in northern Victoria who will be without jobs when the local Heinz factory closes will start a cooperative with tomato farmers in a bid to save the plant.
About 146 people stand to be out of work when the factory closes, which in a town with only 420 residents aged between 15 and 64, will have a significant impact on the region.
About 300 people attended a public meeting yesterday to begin a plan to take responsibility for the factory from Heinz, the ABC reports.
The plant is due to close in January, and locals believe it will effectively shut the entire community, with local services such as hairdressers and corner stores expected to go out of business as the Heinz employees are forced to move away to find work.
Last month the Australian Manufacturing Union took their fight to Fair Work Australia, claiming the company had unfairly reprimanded staff participating in union talks.
The company will dock four hours of pay from workers who attended union meetings on 17 June.
Heinz management said it is legally required to dock the pay of participating workers as it was “unprotected industrial action.”
The union accused Heinz of ignoring important questions from the Girgarre workers, including when the site will close, the possibility for redundancy packages and how long-term casuals would be treated if they secured a job earlier than the closure.
The spokesperson for the newly formed cooperative, Julia Italia told the ABC it will negotiate with the food giant to get a fair price and discuss possible contracts.
"They’re going to go to New Zealand. What we are hoping is that we can supply them from this factory with tomato product, rather than them importing tomato product back here from New Zealand," she said.
"We can supply them and then they have the right to put Produce of Australia, Made in Australia, on their cans."