SA meat processing industry would be unsustainable without migration, inquiry hears

A meat processor says a “housing crisis” in one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions is making it difficult to recruit long-term employees at abattoirs.

Meat works migrant workers key points

Key points:

  • An SA State Parliamentary committee hearing has been examining the economic contribution of migration to South Australia
  • Representatives from two of the largest meat processing companies in Australia said the industry would not be able to function without migrants to the regions
  • They said that housing and infrastructure in these areas is not currently able to support the population growth needed

Representatives from JBS and Teys, the two largest meat processing companies in Australia, spoke at a State Parliamentary committee hearing on Tuesday, looking at the economic contribution of migration to South Australia.

They said the meat processing industry would not be able to function without migrants in regional South Australia, but a lack of facilities in the regions made recruiting to keep up with growth in the sector difficult.

JBS Bordertown plant manager Trevor Schiller said the town “probably hasn’t coped” with the population growth caused by the region’s growing agricultural and timber industries.

“There’s really no rental properties available [in Bordertown], there’s over 20 applications on a waiting list and that’s just with one real estate,” Mr Schiller said.

He said short-term backpacker-style accommodation “isn’t that attractive” and that there was potential overcrowding in shared accommodation.

“We are looking for people, we want permanent people, and we want people to shift to the district, but without a place to live it’s becoming more and more difficult,” Mr Schiller said.

“For us, it’s probably a competitive disadvantage, due to lack of throughput [the amount of meat able to processed by the abbatoir].”

Suitable accommodation also an issue

The State economic and finance committee’s hearings in South Australia’s south-east come a week after the Federal Government announced it would cut the permanent migration program from 190,000 to 160,000 places and encourage migrants to work in the regions.

The State’s south-east is an agricultural region home to the two large abattoirs as well as growing wine, forestry, sheep, cattle and grain production industries.

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Both the JBS and Teys representatives said that because most migrants come on bridging or temporary visas, the reduced permanent migration cap is not expected to have too much of an impact on the abattoirs in South Australia.

But they said facilities and suitable accommodation need to improve to attract workers, both migrants and Australians, to work in the regions.

Teys Naracoorte general operations manager Sage Murray said hiring migrants is more expensive than hiring Australians due to visa application costs and government fees, but the local workforce just was not there.

“We do really struggle with labour and we’re seeing it at all these regional sites [including Teys facilities in Tamworth, NSW and Biloela, Queensland].”

Mr Murray said there are rental properties available in Naracoorte, but they were mostly multiple-bedroom houses and not suitable for the single workers who often fill positions at the abattoir.

The Parliamentary committee hearing will be hosting another public hearing in Mount Gambier on Wednesday.

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