JBS slashes 500 jobs as live export trade cuts herd numbers

JBS Meatworks and abattoir at Dinmore.
JBS Meatworks and abattoir at Dinmore. Inga Williams

THE region's largest employer has had to slash more than 500 jobs as domestic cattle numbers across the country have plummeted due to live exports overseas.

Workers at the JBS Meatworks at Dinmore have seen shifts cuts of up to three per week - with some workers receiving less than the minimum wage.

More than 1.1 million head of cattle were exported last year to overseas markets.

MORE ON THIS STORY: Live export industry response to cattle shortage claims

JBS spokesman Jason Reabel said the company was working with affected workers and had been open and transparent with them about the current state of play.

The Queensland Times understand JBS has gone above and beyond what is legally necessary to help workers out.

"We are providing employees access to accumulated annual and sick leave and in some cases access to superannuation funds," he said.

"Where we can we are offering employees extra shifts on their RDOs if they are available.

"We are really trying to secure our workforce in these tough times.

"We value our employees and their skills and will help them where we can so they can remain in the industry."

Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union site representative Keith Haslam said he feared the local industry would not survive much longer if the policy did not change.

He said cattle numbers, and those available for domestic slaughter, are at the lowest levels in more than two decades.

JBS workers on break.
JBS workers on break. Rob Williams

"Some people have only been paid for two or three shifts because the cattle numbers are simply not there," he said.

"Over the past month 250 have already lost their jobs and a further 250 could be put off in the coming weeks.

"When the heard numbers are down, which they are, what do we do, support local jobs or those overseas?

"It should be about Australian jobs first."

Mr Haslam was highly critical of incumbent Federal Blair MP Shayne Neumann stance of live exports.

Mr Neumann voted against a bill while in government calling for live trade shipments to be banned and for the practice to be phased out.

"Shayne Neumann has the same opinion on live exports as everyone else," he said.

JBS Meatworks and abattoir at Dinmore. Beef cattle processing and kill floor.
JBS Meatworks and abattoir at Dinmore. Beef cattle processing and kill floor. Inga Williams

"He claims the live export industry creates 12,000 jobs but I would like to know bloody where?

"Live cattle export quotas need to be reduced to increase the domestic heard numbers.

"If we keep going down this path there will be no meat industry left in Australia.

"We will end up buying the meat from those were are selling to."

Blair MP Shayne Neumann said he fully supported the meat industry and had recently met with JBS management in Canberra.

He said live trade was extremely important to the national economy - a policy which both sides of politics supported.

"I met with management of JBS and I am aware of the current pressure they are facing," he said.

JBS Meatworks and abattoir at Dinmore. Beef cattle processing and kill floor.
JBS Meatworks and abattoir at Dinmore. Beef cattle processing and kill floor. Inga Williams

"Live export is extremely important for the national economy and is worth $1 billion annually and employs 12,000 in Queensland, Northern Territory and New South Wales.

"The current government has destroyed the quality assurance process and will not support the introduction of a Inspectorate of Animal Welfare.

"I disagree with Mr Haslam's criticisms and have always supported jobs in the meatworks industry, as that is where I started my working life."

Mr Neumann said he was instrumental in securing a $4.4 million grant for the company to help them improve efficiencies at the plant.

He said the grant was allocated under the former government's Clean Technology, Food and Foundries Investment Program.


A response from the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) 

I write in relation to your story "JBS slashes 500 jobs as live export trade cuts herd numbers".

Very limited cattle are drawn from south eastern Queensland for live export.  For starters, the logistics to market are challenging and very expensive with the nearest export ports being Townsville or Portland in south-western Victoria. Brisbane only exports a small volume of specialist niche Wagyu cattle export trade. Secondly, livestock exporters draw heavily on northern Brahman type cattle which are particularly well suited to our major export markets like Indonesia and Vietnam. This is why the live export trade is so important to northern Australian producers for jobs and income.

The meat workers' union campaign against the live trade ignores the fact that the cost of processing in Australia -  1.5 to 3 times the cost of processing an animal in other countries -is the greatest threat to abattoir jobs.

As part of the inquiry into the effect of market consolidation on the red meat processing sector, JBS Australia's submission showed that processing costs in Australia are 2.4 times higher than those in the United States, 3 times higher than Brazil and 1.5 higher than New Zealand.

Excluding labour, the two major areas of difference between Australia and the US is in government regulation and energy costs. In regulation costs Australia is around $10 per head more than the US and $15 per head more in energy costs. If we look at labour cost differentials, a skilled boner in Australia costs about $30 an hour (before on-costs of between 40-42 per cent) compared to $16 per hour in New Zealand and $15 per hour in the US.

Livestock exporters appreciate the core concern of local abattoir workers is certainty in having a job.  That is a freedom all workers want and deserve. But the threat to that freedom is not live export and it is wrong to dress-up the live trade as the workers' bogeyman.

The case for an effective ban on the live export is short-sighted and fails to acknowledge the consequences - turning cattle producers into the working poor by artificially restricting their market options, while shrinking our export capacity to service global customer demand for our quality meat. 

There are several real threats to the future of Australia's red meat sector, but the live export trade is not one of them. Let's put our energies are into growing the "red meat pie" so that all stakeholders in the livestock and red meat sectors can share the benefits. Cutting avoidable and unnecessary red tape is a good place to start.

CEO Alison Penfold


Topics:  dinmore meatworks editors picks federal election 2016 jbs shayne neumann teresa harding

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