Meatworks short on staff

Senator Murray Watt (right) discusses quality control at JBS Australia's Rockhampton Abattoir.

By Matthew Pearce

JBS Australia’s Rockhampton Abattoir simply wouldn’t be operational without Pacific Islander workers, according to JBS Northern chief operating officer Anthony Pratt.

Mr Pratt spoke with new Agriculture Minister Murray Watt on Thursday, 16 June, when the senator dropped into JBS Australia’s Rockhampton Abattoir to talk with staff about issues affecting the meat processing industry including the difficulty attracting workers.

“Within the business that is probably the number one issue today and I don’t think that’s a JBS issue and I don’t think that’s a meat industry issue, I think that’s an issue for everyone in every industry at the moment,” he said.

He said the PALM (Pacific Australia Labour Mobility) scheme had meant the difference between “operating and not operating” for JBS.

“We’re a long way off from full production, some of that’s down to the cycle of cattle that we’re currently dealing with but some of it is almost certainly to do with the fact that we can’t attract enough of a workforce,” he said.

“It’s been an issue that we’ve been dealing with over the years but Covid has certainly amplified it.”

Senator Watt said worker shortages in the agriculture and meat processing industry had been an issue at the time of his last visit to the meatworks just a few years back.

“Since then it’s only gotten harder with Covid and the closure of international borders and the skills shortage where people can take their pick of jobs at the moment,” he said.

He said the ALP had already started talking with key industry bodies and unions about ways to address the issue, including expanding and strengthening the PALM scheme to bring more workers from the Pacific to work in agriculture and processing.

The Federal Government will also launch a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to partner with industry on initiatives to modernise equipment and improve productivity.

“We’re cordoned off half a billion of that money for investment in agriculture, food and fibre and it’ll be firms like JBS that’ll be able to take advantage of this fund.”

Senator Watt said the government was yet to determine the guidelines of the fund as well as the specific industries and projects it would cover, but would be consulting closely with people on the ground.

“This is about helping our industries become as modern and efficient as possible, not so we can lose employees but so we can create more jobs and more value.”