The Guardian August 7, 2002


Goverment rewards Packer for meatworks closure

by Marcus Browning

The story behind the closure of Rockhampton's Lakes Creek Meatworks is one 
of corporate greed and government-subsidised job cutting. Owned by Kerry 
Packer's Consolidated Meat, Lakes Creek had last year employed 1350 
workers. The company has been stalling on an enterprise agreement for eight 
months, while at the same time negotiating a merger with another meat 
company, Teys Bros.

The company ruthlessly exploited the situation at Lakes Creek  
established in 1871, the biggest employer in Rockhampton and the nation's 
second biggest abattoir. Management refused to reopen in January after the 
Christmas break.

After months of negotiations with the Australasian Meat Industry Employees' 
Union (AMIEU) the company finally reopened in May, but cut the workforce to 
700. These workers are set to lose their jobs next month when Lakes Creek 
ceases to operate.

Meanwhile, Consolidated Meat had come to terms with Teys on a $1.2 billion 
joint venture to operate plants at Naracoote in South Australia and in 
Beenleigh, Biloela and Innisfail in Queensland. The deal will come into 
effect in October.

So while Consolidated Meat's executive chairman was bleating "We are not a 
charity", he was doing a billion dollar deal to kill off the meatworks.

"These [merger] negotiations to close Lakes Creek and keep the other plants 
open have obviously been going on for months", said AMIEU Rockhampton 
organiser Paul Jensen. "The company has promised full severance pay for the 
workers, but it will be at the lowest rates agreed to when the meatworks 
reopened in May."

As Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow put it: "Since January we've lost 
1300 jobs out of our community. That's horrendous. I don't think there's 
any way for 1300 jobs to go out of a community of 60,000 and not hurt that 
community".

In addition Consolidated Meat has been rewarded by the Government in the 
form of more than $20 million of taxpayer-funded US beef quotas. 
Consolidated Meat had been allocated 40,000 tonnes of US beef quota under 
the Government's scheme, based on 2001 rates  known in the industry as 
the "Packer clause".

This lump sum corporate welfare payment will pass on to the merged entity 
and flow into the Packer coffers despite Consolidated Meat having processed 
only 3000 tonnes of meat at Rockhampton to June this year.

The previous year Lakes Creek processed 49,000 tonnes. And Consolidated 
Meat will receive the same quota next year even though Lakes Creek will be 
closed.

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