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Workers with disabilities 'heartbroken' at prospect of losing jobs at Southland recycling plant

Disabled workers in Southland say they're heartbroken at the prospect of losing their jobs.

Southland Disability Enterprises, a recycling plant in Invercargill, employs dozens of workers with disabilities, and has hired workers from the disabled community for decades. 

For the last eight years Southland Disability Enterprises has held a contract with Wastenet, sorting recycling for the Invercargill, Gore and Southland districts.

But now it's in jeopardy.

"Recently we found out that we weren't the preferred tender," said Hamish McMurdo, Southland Disability Enterprises general manager.

The company is concerned its staff might struggle to find other jobs, which is why it says it broke its confidentiality agreement.

"We find that change is difficult for those people and they need plenty of time to plan and understand. And we felt with the time frame given we felt it was just too difficult," Mr McMurdo said.

The job losses could also mean more pressure on workers' families.

Lynda Mooij, a family member of a Southland Disability Enterprises employee, said many of the employees' parents are quite elderly, "and there's no way that they could have these people living at home with them for 24/7".

Phil Burt, another family member of an employee, said: "If he were to lose his job we would have to step in and provide a bit more support for him."

Southland Disability Enterprises employs just over 80 workers from the disabled community, and many of them have been working there for more than 20 years.

Many don't understand what's happening, but those who do say it's unfair.

"It really broke my heart and put me down," said one woman employed by Southland Disability Enterprises.

A man employed by the company said: "Bit upset, losing all my mates."

Wastenet Advisory Group spokesman and Southland Mayor Gary Tong said "the contract hasn't been awarded yet" and is "still an open and live process". But he was "very disappointed" Southland Disability Enterprises has broken the confidentiality agreement.

It's unclear why the other tender is preferred or whether cost is a factor.  But 1 NEWS understands the contract with Southland Disability Enterprises is for just under $2 million.

The three councils will vote on a decision in early June.

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A recycling plant who employs dozens of workers with disabilities may have their contract revoked. Source: 1 NEWS