Hundreds of meatworkers are facing job losses or hefty wage cuts as Australia’s 89 export abattoirs grapple with soaring cattle and sheep prices, a critical lack of livestock supply and export markets unwilling or unable to pay more for Australian meat.
The Cootamundra meatworks in southern NSW shut its doors yesterday with the loss of 220 jobs, owner Manildra Meats saying the business that processed 4200 sheep daily and 200 cattle weekly was no longer viable.
In northern Tasmania, the Longford abattoir owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS this week closed its lamb processing line for four weeks, putting 100 workers temporarily out of work, as lamb prices rocketed to $250 a head.
In Townsville, where two-year-old cattle are in desperately short supply and cost an unprecedented $1800 each after good rains, the massive JBS meatworks that is one of the region’s largest employers remains closed, four weeks after it normally would have reopened its doors post-wet season.
Lachie Hart, chairman of the Australian Meat Industry Council representing processors and exporters, says there is not a meatworks left in Australia under the current conditions operating either profitably or at full capacity.
At stake is Australia’s $11 billion export red meat industry and the livelihoods of 32,000 meatworkers. Also in jeopardy is Australia’s position as one of the world’s biggest meat exporters, with both Brazil and the US currently supplying beef globally at more affordable prices than Australia.
Mr Hart said major retailer Costco in Korea last week switched its 15,000 tonne annual beef order from Australia to cheaper, more competitive US suppliers, and he feared other export contracts could also be at risk in this high-priced environment.
The danger is that more export processing plants will be forced to close, with the loss of further jobs.
“There are cutbacks everywhere; processors can’t get livestock or can’t afford them, and can no longer keep running at a loss,” Mr Hart said.
“The general feedback is that this is hardest period we have ever gone through; we are a trade exposed industry with more than 70 per cent of red meat exported; this shortage of stock is having enormous impact on our margins and competitiveness overseas.”
Australian Meat Industry Employees Union national president Graham Smith believes the outlook is grim.
He said most major abattoirs including Naracoorte, Goulburn and Casino had cut their shifts back to just three or four days a week, affecting more than 2000 workers, with thousands more stood down or laid off.
“Right across the country, every abattoir is either closing or winding right back; every state is affected and it’s both cattle and sheep works,” Mr Smith said.
“These are major employers in small regional communities and the ripple effect it is having on local businesses is awful.”
Anecdotally, export processors claim they are losing between $180-$200 for every steer or cow killed at the current high prices.
Source: The Australian