Speaking to GlobalMeatNews, Graham Smith, federal secretary of the AMIEU, said this year was proving particularly tough for the lamb industry but hoped it will bounce back later in the year.
“The meat industry, particularly in lamb processing, is often subject to some seasonality and winter is traditionally a difficult time, but this year the issue has been compounded by international trading factors that have forced processors to stop shipping product to various markets, resulting in reductions in processing and, correspondingly, the labour force.
“The union is expecting to see a further slump in the lamb sector over the next few weeks, but we are also expecting things to return to normal levels by spring.”
This comes following the announcement that 260 jobs have been stood down at the JBS Australia abattoirs and the temporary closure of Fletchers International’s Dubbo plant.
Of these cutbacks, Smith said: “The standing down of so many workers is just terrible news for those affected, but it is not an unforeseen circumstance at this moment.”
He added that overseas workers, who were being increasingly employed by processors, were facing the same job security issues albeit with worse consequences.
“The meat industry is a difficult industry to work in – both because of the nature of the work and also the job insecurity,” said Smith. “As a consequence, the meat companies are turning more and more to overseas workers on temporary work visas in order to recover from local workers walking away from the insecurity of the industry.
“Of course, these same temporary overseas workers are caught up in the same stand-down situation and don’t really understand what’s going on or how they can fund their stay in Australia with no work. Many of those workers came to Australia specifically to work in the meat industry while they are here, so they are now in a particularly hard place.”