Abbatoir suspends workers
MORE than 240 devastated meatworkers are today agonising over their future after being stood down from the Leitch Pastoral Group-owned Killarney and Pittsworth abattoirs.
The group announced yesterday they would “suspend kills” at the two meatworks as well as operations at their wholesale and feedlot arm CondamineRiver Meats (CRM).
Leitch Pastoral Group operations manager Rob Doro spoke exclusively to the WarwickDaily News and said kills would be suspended and the workforce stood down for this week.
“We do expect Leitch Pastoral to be in a position to make a statement about the future of the group by Friday,” he said.
“But the abattoirs have not closed and we have not sacked anyone.
“Employees at the Killarney and Pittsworth plants have been stood down effectively from the close of kill on Monday.”
Mr Doro said the action was a result of the current economic climate.
“The meat industry is a difficult environment at the best of times and this has been a particularly tough period,” he said.
Mr Doro said the meatworks would continue to operate with a skeletal administrative staff and CRM would do “its utmost to service existing clients”.
The suspension affects 130 employees at the Killarney abattoir and 110 at Pittsworth.
Yesterday it was unclear how many staff would be stood down at CRM.
Mr Doro said Leitch Pastoral would ensure employees were paid entitlements.
“We will also be making a concerted effort to recover outstanding debts to meet our creditor obligations,” Mr Doro said.
The announcement comes two months after Leitch Pastoral Group owner Dudley Leitch reassured workers the abattoir was not in financial trouble after rumours began circulating when a clearing sale was advertised and the Hancock family severed ties with the meatworks.
“There is no suggestion whatsoever that we’re slowing down,” Mr Leitch told the Daily News in December.
“To prove that we are going forward, we are doing a number of things ... we’ve entered into forward contracts, are entering into negotiations with the union, renovating the waste-water ponds and I’m going to a forum with the (Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation) with regards to the compost material.”
Roly Hancock established the Killarney Abattoir more than three decades ago and sold the family-owned processing plant to the Leitch Pastoral Group in 2008.
He described yesterday’s decision as a “grim” one for Killarney and Queensland’s meat processing sector as a whole.
“It is unclear what will happen with Leitch Pastoral, but this is a tough time for anyone in the processing industry, particularly privately-owned operations,” Mr Hancock said.
“One buyer out of the market will have an immediate impact on cattle sales locally.
“Yet longer term if the meatworks closes it will have a devastating effect on the Killarney community.”
Greg Carey, who owns the neighbouring Carey Bros meatworks plant in Yangan, agreed long-term closure of the iconic abattoir would have dire repercussions for the community.
“This is a sad day, a bad day for Killarney,” he said.
“The abattoir has been the region’s largest employer for 30 years.”
Yesterday he was fielding enquiries from wholesale and retail butchers desperate to secure kill space in the wake of Killarney abattoir’s surprise closure.
“There haven’t been any calls from meatworkers looking for jobs, but I think many haven’t had time to work out what they will do,” Mr Carey said.
“Frankly we don’t have the infrastructure to process more, we are at about 70 per cent kill capacity now, or increase our workforce significantly.”
Last night local Deb Brown described the mood at Killarney Hotel as depressed.
She said the public bar was crowded with jaded meatworkers struggling to come to terms with yesterday’s shock announcement.
For Ms Brown, whose son worked at Killarney Abattoir and was the sole breadwinner for his wife and two infant children, said the scene was eerily reminiscent of her hometown Beaudesert a decade ago.
“I was in Beaudesert when the meatworks closed about 10 years ago, the place became a ghost town, it was terrible,” she said.
“My son moved to Killarney for work; if the works shut for good it’ll be dreadful for him.
“There just aren’t many jobs around, even when you are prepared to do anything.
“Last night they were just in the bar, knowing they might be spending their last $10, but needing the company of people in the same uncertain situation.”
“They kept saying they were going OK and I believed them and now this,” Killarney butcher Greg Power said as news spread of Leitch Pastoral Group’s shock decision yesterday to “suspend kills” at Killarney Abattoir.
The butcher, who relies on the processing plant to supply all his produce, was left wondering how he would fill the gap.
“If the abattoir closes it will be the end of this town,” Mr Power said.
“That plant is what makes this place tick.
“At the end of the day most of us depend on it, in some way.”
Mr Power has integral links to the meatworks on the eastern edge of the town: It was there he started as an apprentice and like many it remains one of the only workplaces he has known.
“I can’t imagine Killarney without the meatworks and it is not like they had a product that wouldn’t sell,” he said.
“Everyone wants to buy Killarney Beef.”
Former meatworker turned local businessman Rod Cooper was temporarily speechless after hearing of Leitch Pastoral Group’s decision.
But he stressed in retrospect the move shouldn’t come as too much of a shock for locals.
“My daughter works up there and she had said she thought it was time to start looking for a new job,” Mr Cooper said.
“Like a lot of young people she is going to do it tough if the works stays shut.
“She and her husband had just bought a new house.
“I guess you don’t want to think about closure.
“I spent 22 years up there and another 10 years delivering meat; I just thought the works would always be there.”
He said if the plant stayed closed it would “gut” the town.
“They’ll be a long line of people looking for jobs at Yangan and John Dee meatworks when this sinks in.”
Yet down the street Kay Hancock at Killarney Newsagency said she was optimistic the town would survive with or without the meatworks.
“Other towns have gone through things like this and been OK,” Mrs Hancock said.
“We have tourism and other avenues – we will have to work for every sale, but we will do it.
“In the meantime my heart goes out to local families who will do it tough this week.”
Another resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, said he was confident the plant would reopen.
“Wallangarra closed temporarily; I think smaller family-owned operations are just having a hard time,” he said.