Meatworks halt a blow for town
THE closure of the Wallangarra Meatworks for a month is another blow for a town that is already struggling as one of Queensland's poorest postcodes.
Due to a national lamb shortage Thomas Foods International, the owners of the plant since 2010, will close their doors this Friday May 22 for four weeks, affecting around 260 employees - 60% of whom are locals.
Chief Executive Officer Darren Thomas said it was the first time the plant had shut since the family-owned organisation took ownership in 2010.
"After a prolonged drought the national flock numbers are down, and the recent rains brought high sale numbers to an abrupt end," he said.
Since 2010 the Thomases have increased production by about 30% to 40%, processing around 3750 units per day.
But over the past month the kill rate had slowed to around 2800 per day.
In a report released by the Australian Taxation Office earlier this month Wallangarra and Dalveen were listed among Queensland's poorest suburbs for the 2012-2013 financial year.
Wallangarra 4383 was the ninth poorest postcode with a mean taxable income of $30,082, while Dalveen 4383 came in as the third poorest with a taxable income of $28,296.
Owner of the Wallangarra general store Tony Murphy said there would definitely be a domino effect felt throughout the town, but to what extent, he wasn't sure.
"We'll all feel the pinch a little bit - our biggest concern is if they don't reopen," he said.
"I would say the majority of my customers are employed by the meat factory but what can you do? It's all up in the air at the moment so we'll just have to wait and see.
"It won't just be Wallangarra though, Tenterfield and Stanthorpe will also be affected if the workers are without incomes."
Mr Thomas said it was crucial people understood the closure was due to one thing only - a shortage of livestock. "We stand by our reputation, if the stock isn't there, the stock isn't there but we believe that four weeks will be enough time to restock," he said.
"We are already buying stock for when we reopen.
"At the end of the day if it means that we have to reduce our kill numbers to keep the plant open and keep people employed then that's what we'll do."
The other three Thomas Foods International plants at Murray Bridge, Lobethal and Tamworth will also close for what Mr Thomas described as a "usual mid-year shut down".
Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union Queensland Southern Region branch organiser Ian McLauchlan said the closure of meat processing facilities was common.
"This used to happen fairly regularly, it's just been in the last eight years that the meat industry has been very stable so this is a shock to the system for a lot of us," he said.
"The agreement workers in the meat processing industry work under enables them to be stood down with just 24 hours' notice compensated by 10% loading built into their pay."
Full-time employees are entitiled annual leave pay while those on casual agreements would have received certificates from the company for presentation to Centrelink, granting them support for the four weeks without income.
"Our concerns were Australian residents should be looked after first so those on 417 visas were the first to be stood down," Mr McLauchlan said.
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