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.