News

Govt white paper provides road map on jobs for the future – but what about today?

Beef Central, 25/09/2023

THE Federal Government today issued a white paper on jobs and employment opportunities for the future, but pays only lip-service to the present day’s rapidly worsening labour crisis in important regional-based sectors like meat processing.

The next 12 weeks through to Christmas is now shaping as a critical period for the red meat industry, with long, and growing backlogs for slaughter cattle as seasonal conditions rapidly deteriorate. Processors across large parts of eastern Australia say they are struggling to find the man-power to keep pace with demand for processing space.

Some are now talking of the prospect of paddock liquidation of stock in some areas on animal welfare grounds, among cattle that are unlikely to go the distance until killing space becomes available.

If it occurs, that would be a tragedy on several fronts – not only in terms of lost income for the producers involved, but the sheer waste of perfectly good animal protein consigned to landfill.

The Treasury-authored White Paper report released today outlines the Labor Government’s optimistic vision for a “dynamic and inclusive labour market: one where everyone has the opportunity for secure, fairly paid work and people, businesses and communities can be beneficiaries of change and thrive.”

Five objectives are listed that contribute to achieving that vision:

  • Delivering sustained and inclusive full employment
  • Promoting job security and strong, sustainable wage growth
  • Reigniting productivity growth
  • Filling skills needs and building our future workforce
  • Overcoming barriers to employment and broadening opportunity

“This White Paper provides a roadmap to position the Australian labour market for the future. It outlines the practical actions being taken and the further reform directions required to achieve this potential,” the document says.

Today’s labour market is much more inclusive, flexible, services oriented and productive than in previous eras, the report says, but there’s more work to be done to achieve the government’s vision and maximise potential.

Australia currently has an unemployment rate near historic lows and a participation rate around record highs, although labour market conditions are expected to soften over the coming year, it says.

Wage growth has started to pick up, inflation has started to moderate but is still too high, and workforce shortages are holding back some businesses and the economy. While skill and worker shortages are easing for some sectors, long-term solutions would be needed to meet growing workforce demands in sectors such as care and support services, the white paper says.

Drought forum call to politicians

Nowhere is that need for long-term (and indeed, short term) labour solutions more critical than in red meat processing.

In advance of the Federal Government’s ‘National Drought Forum’ in Rockhampton starting tomorrow, a major Australian processor has sent a briefing to federal and state politicians from both sides outlining the current state that the meat processing sector finds itself in.

While the White Paper report places considerable emphasis on skills development, the fact is that it is at the unskilled and semi-skilled level where red meat processing is currently under great stress.

The key points made in the briefing are:

  • While there was some delay in the change to a drier, El Nino weather pattern this year, it has happened rapidly in the last eight weeks as temperatures have risen, and rainfall has been well below average
  • The outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology is for a hot, dry summer as the El Nino develops
  • The increase in the national cattle herd that occurred over the last couple of years during the La Nina weather pattern has meant that the national cattle herd is nearly 29 million head – well above the long-term national average herd size and highest in a decade
  • The change in the weather pattern from wetter than average to drier than average took much of this year to become clear, but has now become painfully apparent for cattle producers heading into summer
  • While national weekly adult cattle slaughter has increased a little in recent weeks to 126,000 head, (up from around 115,000 cattle/week earlier), the industry is still well short of the 160,000 cattle/week that the sector achieved during the corresponding 2019 drought herd liquidation
  • The availability of labour remains a primary constraint to expanding the national weekly processing capacity for the beef sector.

The processors’ briefing to politicians asked for support to secure workers in Australia and overseas in order to expand processing capacity in the broader meat processing sector.

“In May we were reducing our operations (both in terms of number of hours and days a week) because we could not secure enough cattle to process. Now, in September, many of our processing facilities are forward-booked with more than eight weeks of cattle. We are working Saturdays overtime to cope with the volume of cattle,” the company said.

“Animal welfare is becoming a key concern where producers are over-stocked without sufficient feed and water on farm – and the lack of timely access to slaughter.

“We need state and federal governments to support producers to make decisions about their stocking and ensure that animal welfare is the highest priority on-farm – nd that animals with significant animal welfare concerns are not sent to saleyards or for processing – where the travel often makes animal welfare conditions worse,” the processor said.

“We are focussed on expanding our processing capacity to support producers as their cattle turnoff increases rapidly due to the very dry seasonal conditions heading into an El Nino, but we need support,” the processor said.

Labour market conditions expected to improve

The Government’s labour white paper issued today suggests that Australia currently has an unemployment rate near historic lows and a participation rate around record highs, although labour market conditions are expected to soften over the coming year.

“Wage growth has started to pick up, inflation has started to moderate but is still too high, and workforce shortages are holding back businesses and our economy,” the white paper says.

“While skill and worker shortages are easing for some sectors, long-term solutions will be needed to meet growing workforce demands in sectors such as care and support services.”

No mention is made of regional manufacturing sectors like red meat processing in reference to sectors needing long-term labour solutions, let alone solutions to get the industry out of crisis-mode over the next six months.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Peter F Dunn, 25/09/2023

    This is what makes it sooooooo hard for producers, having to somehow reconcile the chalk and cheese disparity between the ideology, the baseless flim-flam and the hype of a government white paper, and the hard facts reality of a briefing from a major processor.
    If ever anyone wanted proof that the government is incapable of keeping up, being across rapidly changing circumstances, and actioning timely solutions, it is present in this issue.

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