A Goulburn contractor says he's facing losing his business unless a district mine owner pays an alleged debt of almost $200,000.
North West Labor Hire owner Fred Speer told The Post he had one message for Heron Resources, the operator of Woodlawn Mine.
"Pay me and I'll go away," he said.
"Show some commitment to the community. We need a point blank statement on what's going on."
His company has worked on the lead, copper and zinc mine near Tarago for the past four to five years. Production only started this year but operations were suspended in March and 90 direct employees made redundant. Contractors were also let go. Heron blamed coronavirus and pre-existing financial problems.
CEO Tim Dobson acknowledges there are "dozens" of creditors.
Mr Speer says he's owed $194,837 for laying polypipe around the mine for water transfer and for site clean-up. Payment was on time up until March but since April his invoices have gone unpaid, he claimed.
"It got to a stage in April where we pulled guys offsite," Mr Speer said.
"I'm running up a bill and going through COVID just like them. They say it's affecting them but it's severely affecting me as well.
"...It's disgusting the way they've handled it. I find the lack of communication absurd."
Mr Dobson said the company had sent several letters to creditors, keeping them updated.
Mr Speer has paid out all his employees and let most of them go. This includes Sarah Chinnery whom he trained in poly-welding. She had also obtained her forklift licence and said she was looking forward to a career in that field but was now unemployed.
This is the real face of who they are hurting.Fred Speer
The Post has seen separate invoices, with a maximum $54,637 sent by North West Labour Hire to Heron in April. Mr Speer said his wife, Letitia, had followed up with phone calls. In June they sent a letter of demand but received correspondence back stating they had billed the wrong company; it was Tarago Operations rather than Heron Resources.
This month they received a letter from the company stating it was working hard to pay creditors but couldn't give a timeline.
On July 8, Mr Speer and five other people staged a protest at the mine's entry. It was also on behalf of other companies he said were owed money.
"We needed to rattle their cage a bit," he said.
But with no further communication, Mr Speer says he will have to raise finance to keep going. A bank loan was proving difficult with nil income for the past three months.
A change in federal laws allowing companies six months to pay invoices rather than 21 days due to coronavirus impacts had made matters worse, he said.
"Either my business or Heron won't be here in November. If I don't have an income, I'm stuffed," Mr Speer said.
"...This is the real face of who they are hurting. They've hurt a lot of people, not just me."
Others wait in line
Mr Dobson said Pybar Mining Services, which was engaged in early 2018, was the major creditor.
Crawford Freight Lines, which hauled product to port, was another. The company had built infrastructure when it won the contract. Director, Peter Crawford, declined comment on the amount but said it was "bloody sad" that Heron had struck trouble.
"It has hurt our company financially. They know they've created that pain for people."
Goulburn Tutt Bryant Hire manager Ben Zyla said the firm was owed a "small amount" of money for services rendered three months ago.
Some other Goulburn and district companies told The Post they had been paid after withholding services, while others declined comment.
Mr Dobson declined to state the total owed, saying the Australian Securities Exchange had not been notified.
Heron is negotiating with three major international finance companies to keep Woodlawn afloat for a restart.
"That's the only revenue stream we have available and we're fully aware there are a lot of creditors. We intend to make payment to them when we have a transaction in place," Mr Dobson said.
He was reluctant to give a timeframe but said the company was working as fast as it could to avoid going into administration. If that occurred, only the secured creditor, Orion Finance, would get anything.
Asked what he would say to creditors facing difficulty, the CEO said the federal government had been very sympathetic with various support measures.
Heron has paid out its direct employees and has 11 remaining onsite.
"Every single creditor has been very badly affected by the closure of Woodlawn Mine," Mr Dobson said.
"But in the absence of that decision to suspend operations we were on a very rapid trajectory to insolvency and it would have precipitated administration months ago. It's a bitter bill to swallow for all stakeholders...and I'm very empathetic to creditors."
He said his key objective was to attract more revenue on top of the $300 million committed by the three finance companies and to find a way forward.
Recruitment would have to restart if the mine opened again.
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