Meat processors are struggling to deal with spiking energy costs and a crippling labour shortage across the country.
The massive rise in the cost of energy has resulted in a $5 million increase in the utility bill at JBS Australia’s major southern plant, at Brooklyn, in Melbourne’s west.
The meat giant’s lamb plants at Cobram, Victoria, and Longford, Tasmania remain closed as rising energy, a shortfall of skilled labour and stock procurement hinder the companies ability to operate at full capacity.
"Mining is coming back quicker than most people think and it is competing for and taking away more people away out of these rural areas,” JBS southern chief operating officer, Sam McConnell, said.
JBS’ Brooklyn plant, which employs more than 1000 people, has absorbed throughput previously processed at the Cobram and Longford plants. He said a shortfall of reliable workers in small rural towns including Leeton and Scone, NSW and Bordertown, South Australia, made attracting personnel a major challenge.
“In our northern operation, JBS has recently begun a ninth shift at Dinmore – the largest beef plant in Australia - and the absenteeism is horrific," Mr McConnell said.
“Townsville plant was closed for four months due to annual maintenance and supply difficulties but we can’t get people back to work… Tasmania has a youth unemployment rate of 22 per cent yet we can’t get workers.”
Midfield Meats representative Dean McKenna said the Warrnambool processor was only operating one shift due to a labour shortage, and that “farmers are paying for those inefficiencies".
Greenham marketing and communications manager, Trevor Fleming, said the company aimed to be a major employer in the Latrobe Valley, with 250 employees required to operate the recently acquired Moe abattoir.
Australian Meat Industry Council chairman, John Berry, said with unemployment low, labour shortages were a challenge across the country.
“Most plants predominantly are located in small population regional and rural areas – they are important to their respective economies," Mr Berry said.
"However getting the right set of skills and experience to man these facilities is increasingly becoming a challenge.
“For me recruiting locally is paramount and having a strong relationship with the local area you operate in is an area that my company, JBS in particular, will continue to focus on, and improve where we can. We accept that not everyone wants to work in a meat plant but there are a lot of good career opportunities and conditions that are well paid."