Thomas Foods Tamworth staff to increase

Photo: Peri Strathearn
Photo: Peri Strathearn

Permanent employees in Murray Bridge are on two weeks’ paid leave, Wallangarra has been ruled out and Tamworth’s workforce is set to increase after all, a week on from a blaze in a South Australian abattoir.

Thomas Foods International chief executive Darren Thomas said on Thursday it would increase the workforce in its plants in Tamworth and Lobethal, SA.

However, he said there were no plans to reopen TFI’s Wallangarra plant, which closed in July 2016.

Meanwhile, Inverell’s Bindaree Beef said it was interested in any ex-staff from TFI and could even help them relocate there.

As the clean-up began last week after the January 3 fire at TFI’s Murray Bridge facility, backpackers had become the first workforce victims.

Mr Thomas confirmed on Monday he had “ceased the temporary employment arrangements for the 417 visa workers”.

The meatworkers’ union said there were “several hundred” of those among the 1400-strong workforce at Murray Bridge.

Tamworth’s role

On Thursday, Mr Thomas issued a statement saying: “As part of our redeployment strategy, we will be increasing production at our Tamworth and Lobethal plants as well as increasing our workforce at both sites.

”We remain committed to Murray Bridge and re-building our local processing operations.

“Our Wallangarra plant remains closed and is not being considered as part of the company’s current redeployment plans.”

A TFI media spokesperson said “new positions at the Tamworth plant are being made available to Murray Bridge workers as well as Tamworth local residents”.

The Northern Daily Leader is seeking further comment from TFI in Tamworth and its national media representatives.

Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) spokeswoman Sharra Anderson said that Tamworth had not featured in its talks with TFI until now, echoing her colleague Grant Courtney’s comment on Tuesday that “it was [his] understanding there will be no impact on the Tamworth operations,” he said.

“It’s quite fresh that Tamworth has been announced,” she said.

“When we saw the statement today, we said, ‘Ah, it is going to be Tamworth’.”

Bindaree welcoming

Bindaree Beef human resources group manager Maureen Rae said the business was standing by for applications from any laid-off workers, and was “looking at packages that would potentially help people with some relocation as well”.

“This has obviously been a tragic event for them – we’re here to do what we can,” Ms Rae said.

“For someone who wants to relocate, Inverell is safe and secure for families; it’s a good regional town.”

Ms Rae said Bindaree would be particularly interested in skilled meatworkers such as boners, slicers and slaughterpersons – who could be overseas workers on 457 visas.

But the business also welcomed semi-skilled workers such as labourers, general hands and knifehands.

“We would absolutely consider 417s who have worked in the industry and have experience; they’re invaluable,” Ms Rae said.

“We would review each application individually and assess [them] on their own merits.”