Queensland abattoirs swoop, as AACo meatworkers in Darwin weigh up their future

Major abattoirs in Queensland are advertising jobs in the Northern Territory in the hope of luring workers after Australia’s largest cattle company, Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), announced it would mothball operations at its abattoir outside of Darwin.

AACo announced last week that it will be closing its $100 million facility after just three years of processing.

Thomas Borthwick and Sons, which operates an abattoir in Mackay, was one of the companies to advertise for workers in an NT newspaper this week.

General manager Pat Gleeson said meatworks around Australia were desperate for skilled workers.

“Everyone is crying out for them all up and down the eastern seaboard essentially, not just us, other companies as well,” Mr Gleeson said.

“[AACo’s employees] will soon be picked up very quickly, it is just a question of life changes, they have to move from where they are settled at the moment.”

Union meets with AACo

Matt Journeaux, from the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU), said a lot of the AACo abattoir workers were still in shock about the announcement.

He said that in a meeting with AACo on Monday it was agreed workers would receive a $200 a week retention bonus, but there was a lot of uncertainty about when the first round of job losses would occur.

“The only date we have at present is that AACo could transition to a closure any time between now and September 30,” he said

He said the expectation was that a lot of workers would take up opportunities in abattoirs interstate.

“We have certainly been in contact with most of the major processors in Queensland to try and get some interest for those workers in Darwin,” he said.

“Meat processing is a transferable skill and there certainly are some plants in Queensland looking for those workers.

“A large percentage of those [AACo] workers have come from interstate to start with, but obviously they wanted to make their home in the Territory and it is a big upheaval for them.

Workers critical for any potential restart

There are plenty of rumours circling the Top End this week about companies looking to buy the abattoir to restart operations, including interest from China.

Mr Journeaux said with abattoir employees looking to move interstate for work, a potential new owner would need to buy quickly.

“It is not like you can just get a workforce of 200 people and flick the switch on and operate the plant overnight,” he said.

“There is a large transition period into being able to get a skilled workforce to run that plant again.

NT Minister for Primary Industry, Ken Vowles, received the news about AACo while on a ministerial trip to America.

He said he was “terribly disappointed” about the announcement and the government “will do anything” to keep workers in the Northern Territory.

“The Territory [population] lost 9,000 to 10,000 people last year, our GST drop is linked to population, so we should be looking at everything to re-train these people and keep them in the Territory anyway we can.”

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