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Dinmore workers stood down by largest meat producer

We post this recent report from the ABC about the closure of Australia’s largest abattoir just west of Brisbane.

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Ipswich meatworkers stood down by company not eligible for JobKeeper payments

A truck entering a meat processing plant
The JBS Dinmore operation is one of the company’s nine meat processing plants.(ABC News: Baz Ruddick)

Workers from Australia’s largest abattoir have been stood down without pay for two weeks, a move blamed on industry competition and the inflexibility of the JobKeeper supplement.

JBS Australia’s plant at Dinmore, in Ipswich west of Brisbane, employs 1,700 workers and can process 3,400 cattle per day.

Workers have told the ABC that over the past eight weeks, 40 per cent of their shifts have been cancelled and they face an uncertain future because the company is not eligible for JobKeeper payments.

Under the Australian Government’s JobKeeper eligibility criteria, companies with more than $1 billion in revenue must show a 50 per cent drop in turnover, while companies earning below that amount only have to demonstrate a 30 per cent fall in income.

JBS operates nine abattoirs across Australia and reports revenue of more than $1 billion, despite consistent losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meatworkers Russell Hoffman and Julie Lumber have both worked at the abattoir for more than 20 years.

Two people sitting at an outdoor table looking worried
Russell Hoffman and Julie Lumber face an uncertain future.(ABC News)

Mr Hoffman said while standdowns were not uncommon in the industry, this was the worst they had seen.

“We have been working on average three days a week, if not two. We have already had a week off due to unavailability of cattle and now we are getting another two weeks off,” Mr Hoffman said.

Ms Lumber said workers were feeling pessimistic.

“We have lost 40 per cent of our wage and in the next two weeks, we will have lost 100 per cent of our wage … people just have no income and they still have to … pay their mortgages,” she said.

Meatworkers at JBS are hired under a regular daily labour hire model, which meant they received a 10 per cent pay loading but could be stood down on 24 hours’ notice.

A brown cow pokes its head through a fence and looks at the camera.
The meat processing industry has slowed down due to the unavailability of cattle, Mr Hoffman said.(ABC Capricornia: Rachel McGhee)

‘JobKeeper needs to be reassessed’

Australasian Meat Industry Employees Queensland branch secretary Matt Journeaux said companies typically stood down staff when there was a disruption in the supply chain.

“When there is unavailability of stock or weather events where animals can’t be mustered out of paddocks, they can be stood down for periods of time,” Mr Journeaux said.

He said stock numbers in Queensland were low and cattle prices the highest in the world.

Mr Journeaux said numerous meat processing plants that used labour hire companies for employment did manage to get JobKeeper payments because they only had to show a 30 per cent fall in revenue, and this made it even harder for JBS.

A man standing in front of a banner for the meat industry employees union
Matt Journeaux says JobKeeper rules need to change.(ABC News: Dean Caton)

“Obviously, those plants which are receiving JobKeeper, there is a financial advantage in the saleyards when they are competing with those animals,” he said.

“JobKeeper needs to be reassessed. It needs to be people that qualify — not the companies.

“These people would have qualified months ago if that was the case, but unfortunately they have weathered the loss because the company is ineligible.”

JBS has lobbied for change

A spokesman from JBS Australia said if the Dinmore site was assessed standalone from the company as a whole, it would qualify for the JobKeeper payments.

The spokesman said the company had contacted senior members of the Federal and Queensland governments to appeal for changes to allow the company to access the allowance.

“We are classed as essential workers and there is just nothing for us to get,” Ms Lumber said.

“It makes us feel really bad. A lot of people have lost their jobs recently and they are earning more than what we are and we are working.”

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