The announcement this week of a new abattoir project in the Upper Hunter, and the 600 people who stand to be employed, is welcomed by the Meat Workers Union. We have a strong history of campaigning for local jobs in places like Tamworth and New England, and we believe that the proposed abattoir will do great things for the local region and for the meat working industry in general.
However, while we do welcome the proposed new abattoir, we must point out the urgent need to address the cattle shortage that is currently gripping our industry. Our national cattle herd is at its lowest point in 20 years, and the situation is about to get a lot worse.
Blood from a stone
The China Free Trade Agreement will see one million head of cattle shipped off shore every year. That’s one million cattle taken from a herd which is already at a record low — one million cattle which won’t be processed in Australia and which won’t create Australian jobs.
The live export industry has already had a massive impact on the Australian meat processing industry. Over 40,000 meat workers have lost their jobs in the last 30 years, with small towns all across Australia feeling the impact as companies send their cattle offshore instead.
We welcome the news of a the new abattoir and the impact this will have on the meat processing industry, but the reality is that the cattle supply simply is not there right now. The number of cattle available in our herd under the China Free Trade Agreement is not enough to sustain the industry’s existing jobs, let alone provide for another 600.
Locals must be employed first
We also urge the authorities considering the new Upper Hunter abattoir proposal to insist that FJT Australia search for locals to employ first, conducting stringent labour market testing before bringing in international workers.
Tamworth has a youth unemployment rate of 19% (well above the national average of 12%), but New England processors have told us that locals ‘don’t want to work’ or are ‘too lazy’. They’ve filled the gaps in their workforce with exploited international workers instead, and we don’t want to see this same situation repeat itself in Denman.
As the coal industry falls apart, it’s important that other industries do their part to pick up the workers who need help. We call on FJT Australia and the Hunter authorities to commit to genuine, stringent, labour market testing conditions that would ensure local workers are given priority.
Photo via Victor Reginalda.