JBS says Cobram abattoir will reopen

April 26, 2017

Disappointing news: Employees at JBS Australia's Cobram plant were called to a meeting last Wednesday to learn the plant would remain on stand down indefinitely, at least until the end of the season.

JBS Australia officials say the company will be working closely with staff affected by the continuing stand-down at its Cobram plant.

JBS southern chief operating officer Sam McConnell said it had been a tough couple of days working through issues at the plant and with workers affected.

‘‘The decision is a livestock supply issue, this is a national issue, it’s not just a state-based or locally in the community of Cobram, it’s across Australia,’’ Mr McConnell said.

‘‘Most processors would be back 20 or 30 per cent of their total capacity.

‘‘On top of that, we have record lamb prices, record mutton prices, record wool prices, record goat prices, and generally you don’t have that all together, all at the same time.

‘‘And then you’ve got record beef prices as well, so it’s an ugly storm coming together once.

‘‘There will be short term pain for long term gain.’’

Mr McConnell said there were plans to reopen the Cobram facility, ‘‘for sure’’.

‘‘It’s a cyclical business and we have to make sure that we’re doing the right thing by the plant, by the people.

‘‘We just have to wait and see how the winter season goes, how the lambing percentages are going ... we can’t control the season, what we have to focus on is what we can control and make sure we do that well.

‘‘At the same time we’re doing this, we need to be looking at how we can reduce increased costs that are hitting us, like utilities, and how we can make our plants more efficient because it’s going to be a big challenge with power and gas and how those costs are rising immensely.’’

Mr McConnell said the company had a strong partnership with agency Foodbank and would be letting workers know of decisions as soon as they’d been made.

‘‘We’re doing everything we can for the workers and their entitlements, we’re working to an EBA agreement and we will continue to do so,’’ he said.

‘‘We have a third party employee assistance group helping people to deal with it and get new jobs and we’re also working with the State Government on getting assistance as well.

‘‘It’s an incredibly hard decision to make, especially in local rural communities. JBS is a really big supporter of many rural and regional communities across Australia.

‘‘It obviously comes as a big financial cost when you’re putting off or standing down people that you’ve trained, and there’s a skill set you lose.’’

Senior management from JBS met with a number of key people on Friday, including staff from Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum’s office and State Member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy’s office, as well as Moira Shire Council.

JBS Australia southern operations manager Sean Naden said communication was key and the company had been working closely with the union.

‘‘I think it’s important we continue communicating with people,’’ Mr Naden said.

‘‘We’ve been clear and transparent the whole time, and over the coming months if conditions change, we’ve told the people we will continue to communicate with them but we’re just going to have to assess month by month as the situation progresses,’’ he said.

‘‘I think there’s been extremely good communication with the union and they’ve been very supportive of the decision, it’s difficult for their members as well, but we’ll work together to ensure we communicate, and providing workers with their entitlements is extremely important and we’ve been straight up with everyone and the union has been a strong part of that.’’

Cobram plant manager James Turner said going forward, his priority would be supporting the people.

‘‘As long as we keep supporting our people, as plant manager I’ve built a very, very good relationship with the people here, and it’s made the process go a little better in working with them,’’ he said.

‘‘I can put my gear on and work side by side with them, and they respect that as a plant manager.’’

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