THE meat workers’ union has condemned a plan to move workers on temporary visas to a Tamworth abattoir, saying Thomas Foods International (TFI) is “desperate to do whatever it takes to avoid employing New England locals”.
The comments came as union representatives started a three-day campaign in the city to prove to meat processing facilities that locals were ready, willing and able to work for them.
However, TFI said in a statement it “completely rejects” the union’s claims as a “baseless smear campaign”.
It said it had hired 20 locals at the Tamworth facility since a recruitment campaign began in the city after a fire at its Murray Bridge processing plant in January.
Australian Meat Industry Employees’ Union (AMIEU) spokesman Grant Courtney said Tamworth was “already at breaking point, suffering under record youth unemployment levels that are double the national average”.
“Now Thomas Foods wants to put the nail in the coffin of local employment, by adding more than a hundred 457 visa workers to a factory whose workforce is already 85 per cent backpacker and student visa holders.”
TFI said workers on 457 visas were an important labour source for the meat processing industry across Australia, and it had received immigration department approval to redeploy up to 100 workers on 457 visas from Murray Bridge to Tamworth.
By 2pm today, the AMIEU visitors had collected about 50 names, numbers and signatures of potential employees; Mr Courtney said that had taken only 90 minutes.
TFI said that since its recruitment campaign began, it had received 82 applications from local job seekers, of which 20 had accepted job offers at the Tamworth facility.
“[This is] including first-time workers excited to be given a go,” it said.
“We are hoping more local job seekers will join our team.
“We also personally reached out to the union [Newcastle and Northern NSW branch] secretary Grant Courtney to provide the names of local people he was aware of seeking work.
“Grant provided the details of just one job seeker, who later didn’t show up for the interview we organised.”
TFI is in the process of recovering from the January 3 blaze, which forced it to sack or temporarily stand down several hundred workers.
More than 300 of those have been redeployed to its other South Australian facility at Lobethal, and Tamworth is the other plant to be taking up the slack to meet processing demands.
The AMIEU has visited Tamworth before to gauge interest in meatworks jobs.
“We did it a few years ago and there was one company that actually stepped up and employed those people we found: Baiada,” Mr Courtney said.
“We’re going to put Thomas Foods on notice that we can find enough people.”
Mr Courtney said it was “absolutely unacceptable” to bring in migrant workers, who were not only being employed at the expense of Australians but were also more vulnerable to exploitation.
He said it was not a legal duty but a moral one to employ locals first.
“No disrespect to our international friends in the industry, but there is no genuine need to engage more international workers in Tamworth,” he said.
“Thomas Foods has a moral duty to support the development of local Australian jobs that support and grow the local community.
“Instead, Thomas Foods relies on the bonded modern slavery of 457 visa workers, and an endless stream of exploitable backpacker workers.”
Mr Courtney said it would be a “massive and costly operation” to bring in the Murray bridge workers, as he believed their moving and accommodation expenses would be covered “but Thomas Foods will happily spend that money as long as it keeps locals out of a job”.
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