Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

PM’s response to meatworkers labelled ‘insulting’

COMMENTS made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison regarding the 1700 Ipswich meatworkers facing an uncertain future have been labelled as "arrogant and insulting" by an Ipswich MP.

Staff at JBS Dinmore have been stood down for two weeks without pay after their shifts were slashed by 40 per cent over the past couple of months.

Blair MP Shayne Neumann has backed a push by the company and the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union for the Federal Government to make an exemption for JBS so workers can access JobKeeper payments.

Comments made by JBS management about the site potentially remaining closed have worried workers.

Speaking in parliament this week, Mr Morrison put the onus on JBS to support its workers.

As the business has a turnover of more than $1 billion, it does not meet the required 50 per cent downturn to qualify.

1700 workers at JBS Dinmore are facing an uncertain future.
1700 workers at JBS Dinmore are facing an uncertain future.

JBS says its Ipswich plant is down 40 per cent since the pandemic broke out.

During question time on Wednesday, Mr Neumann asked the Prime Minister about the issue and why an amendment had not been made.

"JobKeeper has been supporting almost one million businesses and some 3.6 million employees," Mr Morrison replied.

"Our first response was to ensure that we strengthened the JobSeeker support for those who will be unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"JobSeeker is there in an elevated format in a way that will provide support to Australians who find themselves out of employment.

"For those who find themselves without employment, JobSeeker is there and they can earn up to now $300 a fortnight without that impacting their JobSeeker supports.
"(Mr Neumann) believes that JobSeeker is something less than JobKeeper … I don't have that view."

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Mr Morrison put the onus back on JBS to support its workers.

The meat giant says competitors are accessing the scheme through third-party labour hire companies to outbid them at the saleyards.

"These very large businesses of more than $1 billion in turnover … if they have not had the blow of the COVID pandemic in the way that others more seriously have than those companies of course are going to reach into their own resources to provide support to their employees and many have," he said.

"Qantas have had significant support through JobKeeper (and they are) one of the most significant beneficiaries of JobKeeper.

"At the same time they have gone to the markets, they have raised capital, they have sought to keep as many people on as possible and they have had one of the most significant blows."

Mr Neumann said the workers at JBS Dinmore were anxiously waiting for news on their futures and said the government's refusal to budge could throw 1700 people onto the "unemployment line".

At this point, they are expecting to head back to work on Monday but they won't work full weeks leading up to an annual month-long shutdown at Christmas.

"It's a very uncertain future," he said.

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"All the government is offering is unemployment benefits.

"It's the biggest private employer in the area.

"If those 1700 workers lose their jobs it's going to devastate the livelihoods of those workers and their families and the local economy.

"I thought (Mr Morrison's comments) were arrogant and insulting. There's no guarantee these people will get JobSeeker."

Mr Neumann said he was told in discussions with JBS brass on Wednesday night that the company was trying to put on shifts for next week but that was "subject to availability of cattle and other factors."

"The reality is the government could fix this by extending JobKeeper to these workers to save their jobs," he said.

"He seems to think JobSeeker unemployment benefits are as good as having a job, at least if you're a meatworker."

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.