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May 3, 2012 – 8:03AM

'Devastated' ... Workers outside the 1st Fleet offices in Sunshine arrived to find themselves locked out.‘Devastated’ … Workers outside the 1st Fleet offices in Sunshine arrived to find themselves locked out. Photo: Penny Stephens

Employees at national trucking company 1st Fleet have arrived at work this morning to find their jobs have been terminated and they have been locked out after the company was placed into voluntary administration.

About 150 employees are arriving at the company’s Melbourne headquarters in Sunshine this morning to be handed notices informing them they have been made redundant. An estimated 650 workers look set to lose their jobs Australia-wide.

The company was placed in the hands of administrators de Vries Tayeh on Anzac Day, but the administrators announced the 1st Fleet Group of companies would cease trading at 11.55pm last night.

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Handed a termination notice ... 1st Fleet truck driver Paul Dittman was already on the road when he got the bad news.Handed a termination notice … 1st Fleet truck driver Paul Dittman was already on the road when he got the bad news. Photo: Penny Stephens

In a statement this morning, the company said the group’s “line of funding was not extended due to the director’s inability to meet certain pre-arranged commitments”.

“Without this line of funding the business could not continue,” the administrators said.

“This is a regrettable outcome but de Vries Tayeh are working closely with the Transport Workers Union to assist 1st Fleet’s workforce in being placed with other employment.”

1st to know ... The company posted the news on its website.1st to know … The company posted the news on its website.

Shocked workers have gathered outside the company’s locked gates in Strezlecki Avenue in Sunshine this morning, where the trucks remain locked up.

Truck driver Paul Dittman said he was two hours into a trip from Melbourne to Sydney last night when he received a call from a forklift driver in Sydney saying the company had ceased trading just after midnight.

Mr Dittman was told he could either continue driving to Sydney, at which point he would be flown home, or he could turn around and drive back to Melbourne.

Not happy ... 1st Fleet customer Matt Jennings.Not happy … 1st Fleet customer Matt Jennings. Photo: Penny Stephens

‘‘I was only two hours out of Melbourne at that point so I turned around,’’ he said.

‘‘When I arrived back at the depot this morning we were all told to leave immediately.

‘‘A lot of guys have got wives and kids at home and we’ve all got a mortgage. It isn’t good.’’

Mr Dittman, who has worked for the company for 11 years, said workers were told as recently as last week that it was expected to take between six and 10 weeks for the administrators to formulate a plan and everyone was confident the group could continue trading.

‘‘To have this happen overnight, a lot of guys are pretty upset,’’ Mr Dittman said.

‘‘I’m getting job offers coming in so I’m pretty confident that it will work out for me but there’s a lot of guys here that aren’t that fortunate.

‘‘There’s a lot of people in all states really [that will be affected], Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.’’

He said workers were talking with Transport Workers Union representatives at the Sunshine site this morning, and it was unclear whether they would receive their full entitlements.

‘‘We’re talking with the union at the moment, just trying to find out what options are available to us,’’ he said.

Another worker, Mike, told radio station 3AW this morning that he arrived just before 6am to be handed his termination notice.

“As we rock into work today we’re all getting termination forms. The administrator’s closed us down,” he said.

“We’re a bit devastated because apparently we got told, even right up to yesterday, that they could trade out of the administration because it was voluntary.

“But something happened between the administrator and the [managing director] Stephen Brown I believe, so the administrator down here is telling us, and he didn’t come up with something that they needed so they’ve terminated us all.”

Sydney-based workers are believed to have been locked out last night, while a number of interstate truck drivers were told to turn around and return to their bases several hours into their trips.

“I feel sorry for the interstate drivers because half of them got two three hours down the road and then got turned back,” Mike said.

He said many trucks were loaded with goods, including perishable items, that would not be delivered today.

The Transport Workers Union said it knew nothing of the terminations until this morning.

On its website, 1st Fleet says it is one of the largest privately owned logistics supply chain providers in Australia. It was established in NSW in 1988.

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