Almost 200 Cobram abattoir workers were sacked last week after being shelved on indefinite shutdown since March.
JBS — the Brazilian-based largest red meat processor in the world — first shut down its Cobram works in March because of soaring livestock prices.
That four-week hiatus was extended in April and after Easter staff were told the shutdown was indefinite, with September a possible resumption.
But the 195-strong workforce was called in by email last week and told they were all redundant.
A former JBS employee of 11 years said they all knew it was coming.
‘‘Everyone has to make money, I get that — but you see other plants in places such as Nathalia and they’re still going,’’ he said.
‘‘They had to make a decision by October 23. They said they were doing us a favour by telling us five weeks early.
‘‘We all knew it was coming, we were just waiting to see when.
‘‘It has been such a long time since the plant shut down that we’ve all just been getting on with our lives.’’
The man said everything JBS has done was above-board.
‘‘Lamb prices haven’t come down much since they went up to about $7 a kilo,’’ he said.
‘‘At JBS our cut-off is $6.20 so the company said this was not sustainable.
‘‘You can whinge all you want, but in the end they have to make a profit.
‘‘They’re the largest meat processing company in Australia and we’re one of the smallest plants — we were always going to be the first to go.
‘‘It’s been four weeks, four weeks, six months — and now this.’’
The man said although it wasn’t a shock employees are ‘‘definitely upset’’.
‘‘Some of the guys are devastated, they’re just living off Centrelink payments and others are on part-time jobs,’’ he said.
‘‘Many of the guys were long-time employees here and for some, this was their sole source of income,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m one of the lucky ones because I have a part-time job milking cows. I guess we’ll all just have to take it from here and see what the future holds.’’
JBS southern chief operating officer Sam McConnell said a decision on the future of their plants would be made when lamb numbers improved.
‘‘At some stage we want to re-open the plants, when the livestock availability is there,’’ Mr McConnell said.
‘‘The assets are worth a lot of money, you can’t just close and mothball.’’
Mr McConnell said the Cobram site would need up to 500 head a day, which includes mutton, goats and lamb.
Moira Shire Mayor Gary Cleveland said the council was ‘‘disappointed by the news’’.
‘‘Our thoughts are with the employees and their families,’’ Cr Cleveland said.
‘‘JBS announced a temporary closure in April 2017. At that time this decision impacted 360 staff, many of whom were labour hire.
‘‘Of the salaried staff we understand some were made redundant, some retained and some redeployed.
‘‘JBS has advised council that infrastructure has not been moved from the site.’’
Cr Cleveland said they have also advised the site is not for sale.
‘‘JBS has assured council affected staff will be offered EAP counselling services and vocational assessments and will keep council informed of future developments,’’ he said.
‘‘We will work closely with JBS to identify, support and address the needs of their staff.
‘‘Firstly we will activate our Employment Loss Response Plan as well as provide information sessions to impacted workers as required, depending on number and need of the group.
‘‘Council will promote and post local jobs to our jobslink website and encourage job-seekers to visit this site.
‘‘Workers impacted by this announcement will be able to ‘opt in’ to receive information from council about jobs and referral services once they have ceased employment with JBS.’’
Cr Cleveland said they were also working with new and existing employers across the shire.
‘‘This work is to build our local economy to create more employment,’’ he said.
‘‘There have been some success recently with transport, renewable energy and horticulture developments that are promising many new jobs so shocks like this can be absorbed and people can find alternative employment in Moira Shire.’’