Leitch extends plant shutdown
STOCKMAN Bill Ellis has had his share of hard knocks, but yesterday’s announcement Leitch Pastoral Group would indefinitely extend the shutdown at their Killarney and Pittsworth processing plants came as a bitter blow.
Mr Ellis is among more than 230 meatworkers affected by the decision, but what compounds his predicament is the depressing fact his wife, daughter and son are also among those now without an income.
“Worried doesn’t describe half of it; we don’t have jobs now and neither do our kids.” Mr Ellis said.
“I’ve worked here 19 years; I am not getting younger, I can line up some other work, but this will wreck this town.”
The Tannymorel-based worker had an early warning about the announcement Leitch Pastoral Group owner Dudley Leitch delivered in Killarney at midday yesterday.
“My son Billy-Joe is a slaughterman for Leitch in Pittsworth, so he told us what went down there in the morning,” Mr Ellis said.
“The worst thing is not knowing how long we might be out for or whether the plant will ever reopen.”
Mr Leitch yesterday announced the shutdown, which started on Monday, would be extended for an indefinite period while the group attempted to recover millions of dollars of debt.
“I am confident both plants will reopen,” Mr Leitch told the Daily News yesterday.
“We do have millions owed to us, but the combined annual turnover of these plants is in excess of $80 million,” Mr Leitch said.
“In business at any point you have a substantial amount outstanding, but this was the wrong amount in this climate.”
In an attempt to “rein in the debt”, Leitch Pastoral Group this week engaged Brisbane-based management consultant Grant Thornton.
Mr Leitch said the firm was internationally recognised for its ability to assess and assist in the restructure of businesses.
“We are anticipating Grant Thornton’s group will assist in the acceleration of recouping debt owed to us,” Mr Leitch said.
“They will work through the situation at both plants during the next week and then be in a position to indicate when we may be in a situation to reopen.”
Despite Mr Leitch’s assurances the processing plants would reopen, the mood at the Killarney meeting yesterday was angry and frustrated.
Meatworkers shook their heads in disbelief at the announcement accusing the group’s owner of misleading them and giving up on a business they had faith in.
Jan Ellis, who like her husband has a lengthy association with the plant, said it was difficult to believe in Mr Leitch after his repeated assurances jobs would be safe.
“Dudley told us our jobs were right in August and three weeks later he put off 42 people; then in December he said again our jobs were secure, now this,” Mrs Ellis said.
“How does he expect us to keep standing by him?”
She said her family’s crisis was further exacerbated by the fact Killarney Abattoir owed them for livestock as well as wages.
“We sold cattle to them in November and we still haven’t been paid,” Mrs Ellis said.
“Now we find out we’re all out of work.
“We’re workers – we’re not the sort of people who go on the dole.
“But what about my son and his young family? They’re going to be doing it tough.”
Others like Eamon Cockram said the impact of the extended closure would be felt throughout the Southern Downs.
“I worked out here for 27 years on the slaughter floor and I guess this decision didn’t come as any surprise,” Mr Cockram said.
“Yet I was going to take my long service in July and go on a trip, but I suspect I will be rethinking that now.”
Mr Leitch insisted his working-class background and his family’s current difficult financial situation gave him insight into the predicament facing his employees.
“This week has cost me enormously as well; the current situation has been a huge financial and personal toll and my health is not really flash,” Mr Leitch said.
“But I am a tough nut and I have worked hard for these assets and I intend to reopen my abattoirs.”
Yesterday the Queensland Government’s rapid response team was working with the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union to deliver the best outcomes – including accelerated Centrelink entitlements – to those affected by the extended shutdown.
Mr Leitch was involved in a telephone hook-up with the treasury department yesterday, with Treasurer Andrew Fraser issuing a release saying the company had received government assistance “for some time through our Jobs Assist program”.
“Through this program, an independent review identified solutions that will keep the business afloat – but whether the company decides to accept those recommendations is their decision,” Mr Fraser said.
The Killarney and Pittsworth abattoirs, along with Condamine River Meats, Bernie The Bargain Butcher, Executive Meats and Vegetation Access Management are all listed as being part of the Leitch Pastoral Group on its website, along with the DR and KA Leitch Family Trust.
But a search of Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) records by the Daily News shows the Killarney Abattoir is under the control of KA Operations, whose directors and sole shareholders are Dudley Roy and Karen Ann Leitch.
Its principal place of business is listed as 41 Carnaby Street in the southside Brisbane suburb of Macgregor, understood to be the Leitch family’s private residence.
KA Operations has a registered office at Level 7, 179 Turbot Street in Brisbane, the address of chartered accountants the Wallace Group.
Listed with a creditor interest in KA Operations is Rural Bank Limited, a joint venture between Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited and Elders Limited.
The Leitch residence is listed as being under the ownership of the firm Dragonlyn Pty Ltd, which has a post office box at Eight Mile Plains.
Dudley and Karen Leitch are shown in ASIC records as the directors and sole shareholders of Dragonlyn Pty Ltd, which also has its registered office at the address of the Wallace Group, with 41 Carnaby Street its principal place of business.
Entities with a listed creditor interest in Dragonlyn Pty Ltd include Westpac Banking Corporation, B T Securities and Toyota Finance Australia.