Union urges Thomas Foods in Tamworth to employ locals

Grant Courtney in Tamworth in 2015, when the AMIEU was in town to collect the names, addresses and signatures of people willing to work in local abattoirs.

Grant Courtney in Tamworth in 2015, when the AMIEU was in town to collect the names, addresses and signatures of people willing to work in local abattoirs.

A meatworkers’ union official has urged Thomas Foods International (TFI) to make sure local residents are a priority in filling new positions at its Tamworth abattoir.

TFI chief executive Darren Thomas announced on Thursday that production and staffing would increase at its Tamworth and Lobethal, SA, sites after the January 3 fire at its Murray Bridge, SA, plant.

A media spokeswoman said the new positions in Tamworth were “being made available to Murray Bridge workers as well as Tamworth local residents”.

The Leader has sought more details from TFI, but was told at 4pm “the company has no further updates at this stage”.

Jobs, housing questions

Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) Newcastle and northern branch secretary Grant Courtney said the union had some questions and concerns.

“If they’re going to increase production at the Tamworth site, we welcome that news; my main concerns would be ... making sure that the permanent workforce is stable and, of course, career opportunities are given for locals, like we’ve been talking about for many years.”

Mr Courtney said that 19.5 per cent of people aged 15-25 in the New England region were unemployed, and many of them would jump at the chance for abattoir work.

In 2015, the AMIEU set out to prove this, spending three days in Tamworth and reportedly collecting the names, addresses and signatures of 100 willing young people.

Mr Courtney said another concern was where and how any migrant workers, in particular, would be housed, referring to what he called a “fairly damning report” AMIEU released last month.

“We hold by that report … we continue to monitor the operation and arrangements, including lodgings, of TFI and every other company in Tamworth if they’re using temporary migrant workers,” Mr Courtney said.

Situation to date

Mr Thomas said in his statement on Thursday there was “an enormous collaborative effort involving many other organisations and authorities” under way.

“Substantial progress is being made and we expect to be in a position to make further positive announcements soon.”

In the meantime, permanent employees in Murray Bridge are on two weeks’ paid leave, and backpacker staff – those on 417 visas – have been let go.

TFI has ruled out re-opening its Wallangarra plant, which closed in July 2016.

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