FUTURE: JBS Meatworks workers face uncertain times.
FUTURE: JBS Meatworks workers face uncertain times. Inga Williams

JBS: Workers having to access superannuation to survive

WITH the JBS Australia abattoir at Dinmore standing idle, workers say it is management to blame, not cattle prices.

Speaking to the QT anonymously, one worker said staff had to "cop it sweet" when it came to the closures and stand-downs.

"There is a shortage of cattle, but prices are going up as farmers restock and there is competition between live exporters and processors as well," the worker said.

The worker said shifts had been cut or reduced frequently at Dinmore, and believed workers were penalised by the move to Tuesday to Friday rosters.

"We were told it was to allow cattle to be bought Thursday and onsite for processing by Friday.

"That has only happened once in the last six weeks, but the majority of public holidays are Mondays, so we don't get paid."

Compounding the issue, the worker said staff were told a week ago there would be no cattle on Friday, with all supervisory staff attending a national conference in the Hunter Valley that weekend.

"We have also been told there is no day shift this week, and then no night shift next week."

The long-time employee said the blow had been softened by access to long-service leave, but others were not so lucky.

"The company says they are helping people access super funds, but I don't know of a single worker who was able to access super."

The worker said there was a feeling among staff that JBS had not done enough to support workers.

"The mood around the works is not happy; shifts are being dropped."

The worker said a labourer earning $22 per hour would be paid $440 for two days but, when rent and food was taken out, there was little left.

As for the conference, the worker said a couple of hundred people were attending, money that could otherwise be spent on buying cattle.

"They are not making money if they are not processing, but the company says it is losing money on each beast. They have to process enough to meet orders."

While there are calls for a ban on live exports to protect local jobs, the worker says he does not think that is possible.

"I agree with the statement made by a Liberal candidate, and I am a Labor supporter, that we do need some live export, but we also need a cap."

Matt Journeaux, Queensland Branch secretary of the Australian Meat Industries Employees Union, agreed there needs to be a cap on live exports, to protect local jobs.

"The simple answer is there is too much competition for the available cattle," Mr Journeaux said.

"There has got to be a bit of fairness in the system."

Mr Journeaux said there is no easy answer to the situation, but a cap needs to be introduced, below the 1.38 million live exports in 2015.

"I think we are very naive to think live exports will end.

"It is not easy to say what the cap should be, but there has to be no expansion to live export at all."

With the Chinese government subsidising creation of processing infrastructure, Mr Journeaux said the playing field is tilted away from Australian processors.

"We export live animals, and the value-adding is done there."

Instead, Mr Journeaux said the Department of Agriculture and Meat and Livestock Australia have 'very accurate' data on cattle numbers in Australia, including herd numbers and cattle available for sale.

"We need a sustainable solution, it is the preferred option, to meet all needs.

"This (current) position is not sustainable."

Mr Journeaux said he feels for everyone at the Dinmore plant.

"There are widespread stand-downs throughout the industry, because it is so widespread."