Tamworth's Thomas Foods abattoir to boost staff by 150-plus

UPDATE: Thomas Foods International chief executive officer Darren Thomas speaks to media outside the company's Lobethal meat works today. Photo: Peri Strathearn
UPDATE: Thomas Foods International chief executive officer Darren Thomas speaks to media outside the company's Lobethal meat works today. Photo: Peri Strathearn

ANOTHER 150-plus people will be put on at the Thomas Foods International (TFI) Tamworth abattoir, as the company redeploys workers from Murray Bridge.

This would boost the current workforce by about 20 per cent and it’s believed it will require the start of weekend shifts at the local facility.

TFI chief executive officer Darren Thomas said this would help cover a 20 per cent increase in production there and was “a major step forward” in recovery efforts after a fire at the South Australian plant.

“This is in addition to the current recruiting campaign we have in place in Tamworth for local residents seeking to join our company,” he said.

In a press conference this afternoon, after almost two weeks of media silence, Mr Thomas said the family company had “begun redeploying staff”.

“As part of the initial tranches of positions, 340 Murray Bridge employees have now started work at our Lobethal meat processing facility and we are currently in the process of making another 70 positions available there in the short term,” he said.

“We are also in the process of creating approximately 150 new positions at our Tamworth facility for our employees, effective immediately.

“This is in addition to the current recruiting campaign we have in place in Tamworth for local residents seeking to join our company … Production levels at our other processing plants will increase significantly – doubling in Lobethal and by more than 20 per cent in Tamworth – as we continue to manage our customer requirements. 

“We are working closely with local government in Lobethal and Tamworth, where we have received a very positive response to the employment opportunities and broader economic benefits in both regions.”

Council’s role

Tamworth regional mayor Col Murray said he’d sent a message of commiseration and support the day after the January 3 fire.

“It was saying that we’d be keen to work with them to provide any assistance we were reasonably able to,” he said.

“Our concern is that Thomas Foods International remains a financially sustainable business, and we need to ensure we’re doing everything we reasonably can to assist the company and keep those jobs in the area.”

The council had two roles to play in Tamworth’s part of the TFI recovery from the fire, Cr Murray said.

“In our planning role, [that] might be providing some urgent planning approval to allow them to expand their numbers of slaughter or hours of operation,” he said.

“That’s not unusual, where a temporary approval might be given for an extraordinary cause.

“And then there’s the other regulatory role in terms of things like housing, accommodation ...

“We don’t actually go out and physically monitor every house and check whether they’re complying with their development approval, but council responds to community concerns and our rangers are keeping an eye on the situation, as we would be expected to do under our regulatory obligations.”

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‘Truly tested’

Mr Thomas said more than 90 staff remained in Murray Bridge, working in specialist areas in operations unaffected by the fire.

“Our company and people have been truly tested these past weeks, but we are a resilient and determined team,” he said.

“There are no easy solutions in a difficult situation such as this.

“To find new positions for the majority of our 900-strong permanent workforce so soon after the fire is testament to the outstanding efforts of everyone involved.

“This shows what can be achieved when industry, government and communities work together for a common goal.”

Rebuilding and support

Mr Thomas said TFI executives had meet with their insurers and were now starting to plan the rebuilding works.

“We are committed to Murray Bridge and while it is too early to provide further detail on what may be required, the rebuild process could take between 12-24 months,” he said.

“Demolition work on site has already begun and we will keep the community informed as we develop our exciting plans for bigger and better Murray Bridge operations.”

Mr Thomas said TFI would offer support to employees in their transition to new positions, as well as access to services to those who would no longer be with the company.

“We can’t say for certain how many staff will eventually take up new positions with the company, but from our discussions with various organisations, we’re confident that there are employment opportunities for workers – whether with us or with other local businesses that have pledged their support to offer jobs.

“Ultimately it’s about maximising the employment opportunities for everyone affected by the Murray Bridge fire and working together as an industry and community at this challenging time.”

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