Palmer refinery workers remain in limbo

By Jamie McKinnell
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Palmer's refinery workers in limbo

Most workers at Clive Palmer's Yabulu refinery are in limbo a day after they were sacked.

Clive Palmer is facing mounting pressure to guarantee the entitlements of 550 workers whose positions at his embattled north Queensland nickel refinery remain in limbo.

The workers clocked off on Friday afternoon with a question mark hovering over their future, despite the Yabulu facility clearing one major obstacle in successfully transferring an environmental authority to the new management company, Queensland Nickel Sales.

The company was put forward on Monday, heralding Mr Palmer's re-entry to the venture, but since then the plant's future has remained unclear.

It was still working to clear about 20 authorisation hurdles and was late Friday hit with an enforcement notice by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

But Environment Minister Steven Miles said the orders were an instruction to manage the plant appropriately, not to stop work.

"Officers have had conversations with the company, and they are aware of the requirements," he said.

The refinery's tailings dams and pumping equipment were a priority, given its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Mr Palmer has promised to rehire workers but is facing a chorus of critics who say he must definitively state their entitlements will be safe.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was a shame to see the industrial facility looking "like a ghost town".

"This is a major economic catastrophe for Townsville, if you take out 800 direct jobs and 1600 indirect jobs you can imagine the impact on any regional community," he said.

Mr Shorten suggested Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could step in and make sure the workers' entitlements are paid, and then chase Mr Palmer for reimbursement.

Federal MP for Herbert Ewen Jones said the refinery's management should have planned for hard financial times because nickel was a "boom and bust" industry linked to steel.

"This has been borderline malfeasance by directors from the casual observer," he told Macquarie Radio.

"This has been piss-poor management."

He said when BHP was going to close the refinery in 2009, the financial impact on the local economy was anticipated to be $4.5 billion.

Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt said uncertainty for both the workforce and creditors needed to be addressed.

"I think that is the only fair thing, and I think right now that rests with Mr Palmer and what his next move is."

Mr Palmer was contacted for comment.