Southern Meats shakes off 457 visa abolition

Southern Meats at south Goulburn employs 20 to 30 per cent of its workforce on holiday visas.
Southern Meats at south Goulburn employs 20 to 30 per cent of its workforce on holiday visas.

The chief of Southern Meats abattoir is predicting a major impact on the wider industry from federal government 457 visas changes.

But Wammco chief executive Coll MacRury says the changes won’t affect the Goulburn facility because in contrast, it relies on a six-monthly holiday visa program.

The government announced the abolition of the 457 scheme on Tuesday and its replacement with two temporary skills shortage visas. They carry stricter requirements, including language and labour market testing and two years’ work experience. The crackdown has also narrowed the field of qualifying industries.

Meat processing is not among them but Mr MacRury fears abattoirs reliant on the program will feel the heat.

“It will be a big deal for some who are already doing it tough,” he said.

Some 15 per cent of abattoir workers Australia-wide are employed under the program. Mr MacRury said Southern Meats formerly utilised the scheme but it became too expensive. In recent years it has relied on the holiday visa program to employ between 20 and 30 per cent of the workforce, or 70 workers, at peak capacity. 

“The average Australian doesn’t want to work at abattoirs because it’s too tough. They see it as a mundane role. We just can’t get young people in Goulburn,” he said.

In contrast, he said holiday visa workers, mainly from Asia, “worked like robots” once they learnt the job and rarely took sick days: “That’s what will hurt regional Australia if we’re not careful.”

Meantime, the abattoir is coping with still high lamb prices by operating some shorter weeks. Mr MacRury said it fluctuated according to international orders and some weeks were busier than others.