ROCK BOTTOM: Meatworkers facing uncertain future
MORALE at an Ipswich meatworks is at rock bottom with workers, who have already had shifts slashed over the past two months, facing an uncertain future.
JBS Dinmore will close from Monday for two weeks, which means 1700 staff will be out of work for an extended period.
Employees have only been working three day weeks over the past two months and the company does not qualify for JobKeeper.
Adding to the struggles of the largest meat processing facility in the southern hemisphere are smaller competitors using labour hire companies to staff their abattoirs and access JobKeeper via a third party.
This means other operations can outbid JBS at cattle sale yards with meat selling at record-high prices.
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As the company has an annual turnover of more than $1 billion but has not experienced a 50 per cent loss from the start of March, it does not qualify for JobKeeper.
The Dinmore facility is down 40 per cent this year.
Blair MP Shayne Neumann has urged the Federal Government to make an exemption for JBS to support struggling local workers and crack down on labour hire companies working the system.
Mr Neumann wrote to Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Wednesday, seeking "urgent financial assistance."
"The plant has already cut shifts in recent weeks and expects to resume with a three-day work week until Christmas once it reopens," he wrote.
"The abattoir is 90 per cent export-base … representing 10 per cent of national production.
"It is one of Ipswich's largest employers, and the closure and reduction in shifts will have a devastating effect on the local and national economy with meatworkers seeing a cut to their incomes of around 40 per cent.
"(I) am requesting urgent financial support from the Australian Government for the company's workers in the form of JobKeeper with appropriate eligibility criteria.
"I am therefore seeking a change to the current JobKeeper eligibility rules so that JBS Dinmore can access JobKeeper payments as a stand-alone site.
"In addition, I request that you consider improving the integrity of the scheme to prevent firms from using payments to game the system and engage in anti-competitive practices through extensive use of labour hire."
A JBS spokesman said it had been a "struggle" to operate the Dinmore plant.
"The rationale behind JobKeeper was to support jobs and as a fiscal lever for the economy, but as our workers in Ipswich are experiencing first-hand, it is capable of distorting competition through subsidising labour, in a sector whose margins are already under considerable pressure," he said.
"It's been a struggle in 2020 to operate Dinmore.
"The impact of COVID on the viability of its operation plus the demand for protein internationally combined with having to compete for available livestock against other operators who are receiving JobKeeper has only made it even harder."
One worker, who did not want to be named, said morale among workers was very low.
"It's bottoming out," he said.
"I've never seen anything that bad.
"People down here are really worried about their futures.
"They're talking it could be longer than two weeks. They don't tell us squat."
He said workers had been able to just about get by on pay for three days a week but many were relying on their partners' income.
Others haven't been so lucky and two full weeks of no work and no pay has been another cruel blow.
"People have been using sick leave and long service and holiday pay to make up that loss of pay," he said.
"The morale is very low."
Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union Queensland branch secretary Matt Journeaux was meeting with JBS on Wednesday afternoon.
"They said they will reopen after that two week period," he said.
"We're concerned coming into Christmas, particularly towards the end of the year.
"Cattle does tend to dry up towards the end of the year so it will really be a struggle to keep the plant operational towards the end of the year.
"To have this two week shutdown is a real kick in the guys. It's tough.
"I just hope some sort of sensibility can be found by the Federal Government to assist these workers in getting some money to keep them ticking over."
Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.