BEEF processors are seething at Friday’s announcement by agriculture minister David Littleproud that Australia will spend part of a $146m program supporting employment and training initiatives in Vietnam – including a significant meatworker training program.
Processors say the project (click here to view yesterday’s story) would undermine Australian meat processing competitiveness, especially in the north, where plants are directly exposed to live export competition.
It’s well know that a healthy ‘grey trade’ exists in beef from Vietnam into neighbouring China, suggesting Vietnamese beef produced with the support of Australia’s abattoir training program could compete head-to-head with Australian exported beef.
The Australian Meat Industry Council said the Australian Government was leaving the domestic red meat supply chain industry behind, while it funds training of abattoir production workers overseas under the Managing Abattoirs, Training and Exchange of Skills (MATES) program recently announced.
AMIC chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said his organisation was concerned that the Federal Government was investing millions of dollars in training workers in Vietnam while the local meat processing and retail industry was crying out for support.
“AMIC represents the meat processing, exporting, wholesaling and retailing sectors and along with our partners in the red meat supply chain we’re calling for the Australian Government to support the labour supply issues that have been hampering progress. Our members struggle to find skilled workers and fund training programs. We would like to see the Government investing locally, before contributing overseas,” he said.
“AMIC recognises the broader role of aid projects like MATES, but it’s also crucial to balance this with local sector needs. We object strongly that this investment has occurred at a time when access to labour and Government-sponsored training is severely constrained.”
“Appropriately skilled labour is probably the biggest single obstacle to further investment in processing in Australia. It’s an industry that employs nearly 200,000 people directly and indirectly across processing, exporting, wholesaling, retailing and smallgoods manufacture and, in regional areas, is often the biggest employer in town. To invest Australian taxpayer funds in skilling labour overseas when our own local industry is struggling for those skills is maddening,” Mr Hutchinson said.
The peak body noted that local industry and government needed to work together and that it would welcome the opportunity to meet with Minister Littleproud to talk about the local industry.
“Considerations include waiving Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) fees for listings of beef export establishments for Vietnam over the same term as the proposed in-market training. Similarly, other DAWR charges imposed on exports to Vietnam could be waived for the same timeframe,” Mr Hutchinson said.
AMIC is the peak council that represents retailers, processors and smallgoods manufacturers and is the only industry association representing the post-farmgate Australian meat industry.
“We also represent meat retailers and appropriate funding of the meat processing industry has a knock-on effect. The Australian meat processing industry is worth $23 billion to the Australian economy, and that’s just the processing part,”Mr Hutchinson said.
The government’s training program was launched at the Vissan abattoir in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday by Minister Littleproud during a four-day tour of Vietnam.
Mr Littleproud said the Managing Abattoirs, Training and Exchange of Skills (MATES) program was “focused on upskilling Vietnam’s workforce to international animal welfare and food safety standards are met.”
“The program, funded by Australia, will improve key integrity aspects of the live export supply chain in Vietnam and to modernise the supply chain from production to distribution,” he said. “It will also assist industry to meet consumer expectations when it comes to food quality and safety.”
- The Department of Agriculture was unable to provide details of exactly how much of the $146 million budget would be spent in the Vietnamese abattoir training program, by the time this article was filed.