Churchill company director Barry Moule said the facility was the largest domestic abattoir in Australia but it had been hit hard by cattle shortages and high prices.
Workers became worried when the owners let it be known they were looking for a buyer, possibly Chinese, to acquire the troubled abattoir and upgrade it from Australia’s largest domestic-only licensed meatworks to one also with valuable export certification.
“Unfortunately, we have not been successful in that regard,” Mr Moule said,
The union seemed pessimistic that Mr Moule, who has been seeking an investor, might find a white knight to save the site.
“You’d have to be a brave person to front your money and expect a return in the current climate,” Mr Journeaux said.
“It’s been a bit of a perfect storm for meat processing. After years of drought across most of Australia a lot of producers offloaded a lot of stock. The herd rebuilding has taken a lot longer than was originally thought.”
UPDATE: About 750 people will soon be out of work, with an abattoir and chicken processing plant to close in a double whammy for the Queensland city of Ipswich. The Churchill Abattoir at Yamanto will cease operations in late September, costing 500 workers their jobs.
Another 250 jobs will go when a chicken processing plant that produces Steggles products at Wulkuraka stops operating in January, owner Baiada Poultry says. But about 100 other staff will remain employed when the site switches to a sales and distribution facility.
The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union says affected workers are devastated and it’s working to find them jobs at other plants in southeast Queensland.
“This is going to have a huge effect on the local economy, taking out those wages — the effect will be significant,” the union’s Queensland branch secretary Matt Journeaux told AAP on Tuesday.
Andrew Antoniolli, who was elected the new mayor of Ipswich less than a fortnight ago, says there is pain ahead for affected families but he is talking to all levels of government about what support can be offered. He says concerns about the abattoir’s future have been swirling for some time but the chicken plant’s closure came out of the blue.
“The chicken meat industry is growing enormously so that came as an absolute surprise,” Mr Antoniolli said.
Baiada managing director Simon Camilleri said market conditions required the company to consolidate its national processing operations.
“All employee and contractual obligations will be met and we will work closely with local partners to help staff find new jobs with other employers,” he said in a statement.
The Queensland Times reports the last day of cattle slaughter will be Thursday, September 28.
It comes after months of rumours circling the struggling Yamanto facility.
In a statement, the company said cattle shortages and high prices had devastated the beef industry.
“Without the capacity to pass on increasing costs, our customers have struggled to maintain cattle numbers.
“Without the numbers, we do not have a sustainable business, we need to work to our production capacity — at least five days a week — the current four days each week is unsustainable.”
During the past few years the company has engaged with several potential investors to transform the abattoir into an export plant but that had been unsuccessful.
About 500 people work at the abattoir.
The company has assured all employees will be paid entitlements and the abattoir may reopen in six to 12 months time as an export plant.
Last year cattle prices rose to the highest in 35 years following a severe drought period.
The dwindling cattle numbers and record high prices have put pressure on the slaughter industry as farmers were forced farmers to sell off their cattle because of a lack of food.
Herd numbers are slowly growing but the lack of rain continues to plague farmers as they try to rebuild their stock numbers.
The latest projections from Meat and Livestock Australia predicts Australian cattle prices are unlikely to drop back to pre-2013 levels, before prices rose sharply as cattle numbers dwindled.
Brian Surawski, director of Highchester Meats just outside of Beaudesert, said abattoirs were suffering and the high prices people were paying at the supermarkets for beef was unsustainable.
“The herd numbers just haven’t come back and that has been detrimental to a number of businesses from the slaughter houses to the butcher shop,” Mr Surawski said.