THE TITANIC RCR DISASTER THAT WE ALL SAW COMING
Whilst top executives have walked away with multi-million dollar payouts.
The events that led to this point were like a train crash happening in slow motion. The writing was on the wall from the first day RCR entered into the renewable market.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
From the first day ETU Organiser, Troy Knight, and ETU OH&S Officer, Kris Gretgrix, entered the Gannawarra Solar Farm in Kerang back in March 2018, it was obvious RCR were out of their depth in the renewable sector. After being hindered by RCR’s incompetent HR team, the ETU entered the workplace and were confronted by some disturbing unsafe electrical work being performed by unlicensed foreign backpackers. The ETU immediately advised RCR that they were putting these unlicensed workers at risk of a serious injury or, even worse, a fatality. To the ETU’s disgust, RCR advised the ETU that it is their site and they will run it how they please. Due to the current barbaric industrial legislation, the ETU had no ability to get RCR to cease the dangerous practice immediately. In the time between the ETU leaving the site and contacting the regulator, an RCR employee received a serious electric shock which luckily proved not to be fatal. The ETU, with the assistance of the regulator, had a great win against RCR with the rest of the work on the project being completed by licensed ETU members without incident.
After observing the poor work practices and shortcuts that were taken on the Kerang project, it was of real concern to the ETU that RCR had been awarded another solar farm contract at Wemen. This time the ETU made sure that we had a presence on the Wemen site so none of our members or any other workers were put at risk due to RCR’s poor practices. Unfortunately, to our dismay, RCR continued to do everything it could to take shortcuts on Wemen and that’s when it became obvious to the ETU there was more to this story; it wasn’t just poor practices and incompetence that was putting our members at risk. RCR had tactically underbid all their competitors in the tender for their solar farm projects. They had hoped that even if they made a loss it would secure them as the primary company for solar farms in Australia and lead to bigger windfalls later.
In attempts to minimise costs, they engaged labour hire subcontractors, rather than directly hiring employees under a collective agreement, and continued hiring and exploiting foreign workers.
A SHAREHOLDER REVOLT
It wasn’t just employees who were furious at RCR; shareholders were also enraged. RCR’s share price had pretty much been in freefall for several months. Between July and October it more than halved from $2.12 to $1.02. It fell even further to $0.87 by early November. In November 2017 it had been $3.55. Just weeks after the Wemen workers were sacked, the RCR board had to face up to an AGM. A generous pay deal was proposed for the company’s board and executives. Angry investors rejected it, sending the board “a strong and clear message”.
CIRCLING THE DRAIN
Executives and board members were dropping like flies over RCR's months of decline. CEO Paul Dalgleish quit in August and received a $1 million payout. He had also sold $10 million in RCR shares in the previous years. In October a non-executive director resigned. She had no RCR shares by the time she left, meaning she too likely sold out for millions knowing the wheels had fallen off. On November 7th, CFO Andrew Phipps resigned citing “personal reasons”. It was only 5 days after that RCR announced a trading halt.
When the news of the halt broke, tradies across the country were scrambling to get their tools off RCR sites as they braced for the worst. ETU Victoria Secretary, Troy Gray, put out a statement demanding the company guarantee the unpaid wages.
“It is unconscionable that it is the small local contractors and workers who are bearing the financial brunt of the RCR Executives’ mismanagement of their solar projects,” he said “Especially as RCR current and former executives have continued to draw large salaries for themselves while RCR profits and share price have been decimated.”
On November 19th, RCR were hit with another blow – a class action was launched on behalf of shareholders who had invested over the previous year. By Wednesday November 21st it was all over. RCR had placed themselves into voluntary administration. 3,500 jobs were now on the line and hundreds of thousands of dollars was still owed to contractors.
CLEANING UP THE MESS
The ETU would not stand for anyone being left behind. We immediately made contact with the administrators to ensure the best outcomes possible for our members.
At the time of writing, RCR is being carved up and sold off. ETU Victoria is working with prospective buyers to ensure that when a contract is sold the existing workforce goes with it. While the company badge on their shirts may change, people will get to keep working the same job.