Global meat giant JBS will reopen its meatworks in northern Victoria six years after it was shut and nearly 200 workers were made redundant.
- The site will employ up to 350 people
- It closed in 2017, making 190 staff redundant
- Processing lamb for export will be the main priority
The company say 150 staff will start work on Monday at the reopened lamb, mutton and goat processing facility in Cobram.
JBS Australia southern chief operating officer Sam McConnell said the company planned to have 350 staff working at the site within the next six months.
“All the senior team are local people, which is fantastic to see,” Mr McConnell said.
“We will have some people to come from the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme (PALM).
“At the moment it’s probably 60 per cent PALM and 40 per cent local.”
The site was closed in 2017 due to supply shortages and has recently had $20 million spent on upgrades to reopen.
Meat and Livestock Australia has predicted slaughter levels for lamb will increase to record levels in 2023 as the national flock continues to grow.
“Since we’ve closed the Cobram facility, things have changed,” Mr McConnell said.
“We had a wicked drought back then, demand wasn’t as good and we see today demand is stronger and the flock has increased.
“The plan is for it to be predominantly a lamb processing facility.
“We will do some mutton and some goat and will be generally 70 per cent export and 30 per cent domestic.”
Livestock will be sourced from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.
Product will be exported via plane and boat to markets in North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
The site will operate five days a week and have capacity to process up to 4,000 head per day.
“We are not going to invest this money if we’re not long-term believers and JBS want to continue to invest, continue to grow and help local communities,” Mr McConnell said.
Good wages expected
Meat Workers Union Victorian state secretary Paul Conway said the union welcomed the news.
“It’s fairly significant in that we’ve seen a lot of rationalisation of the industry, so for JBS to reopen Cobram, obviously they have a long-term plan,” he said.
Mr Conway said he understood JBS was committed to employing as many local residents as possible.
“The plant was originally owned by the Vodusek family and it always had good wages and conditions,” he said.
“I imagine they will have a residual amount of visa workers, whether they are PALM or from other destinations to fill their need, which is normal for the industry.
“I’ve seen the wage rate and I don’t think they are going to have any trouble finding people prepared to work there.”
Housing may be a problem
Moira Shire Mayor Peter Lawless said as a major employer in the town, it had been a shock to community when the meatworks closed in 2017.
“I think the reopening has given the community a real lift,” Cr Lawless said.
“And it all has a spin-off for local contractors as well as it gets back up and running.
“It’s the follow-on effects of people shopping in your town and looking for services.
“It’s a great bonus for the town.”
Mr Lawless said one challenge for people moving to Cobram to work at the abattoir would be finding housing.
“Housing is a major problem, and we are looking at an expansion of the Mulwala explosives factory, so we’re flat out accommodating people looking for housing at present,” he said.