THE Managing Director of one of Ararat's biggest employers says meat processors will need more government support to continue past this round of lockdowns in Victoria.
Ararat Meat Exports' Michael Stapleton's comments come in the wake of JBS closing its west Melbourne meat processing plant indefinitely after recording new coronavirus cases this week.
Mr Stapleton said once the Victorian government's stage four restrictions came into effect statewide for abattoirs, AME reviewed whether it was viable to continue operations at its own plant.
"We have manged to strike a balance at this stage of reducing our staff by the required 33 per cent," he said. "That has reduced our production by more than 33 per cent, but at this stage we are still operating and assessing the situation on an ongoing basis.
"When your staff are reduced, it has a multiplier effect on how much you're able ot output as a result."
Mr Stapleton said AME normally employed approximately 300 people, but only 200 are on site as of this week. He said employees had been receiving the federal government's JobKeeper wage subsidy program since the pandemic first took hold.
"It means reduced hours as we try to employ people as much as we can," he said.
"If these restrictions last beyond the six weeks, I think there would definitely need to be funding so businesses such as ourselves could stay open post-COVID. It's been a difficult year and these restrictions have made it more difficult."
In addition to the restrictions, Mr Stapleton said the JBS closure would affect the industry in the form of livestock pricing.
"I think the reduced competition, especially as we move into spring, with more lamb and sheep numbers being turned off, that reduced competition of meat exporters and processors being open will result in a fall in lamb and mutton prices across the board," he said.
"Many farmers would have expected higher prices than what is being seen at the moment. I just don't think prices are going to increase in the next six to eight weeks with the reduced processing capacity.
"A lot of our export markets have been affected by the virus, and therefore sales have been reduced dramatically. As economies and restaurants overseas shut down, the requirement for protein has diminished significantly.
"Combining that with a diminished amount of livestock due to most of Australia recovering from a drought... that's also made it a difficult operating year."
On Wednesday, the state government announced special rules for regional abattoirs, allowing them to work at full capacity on some days of the week and close on other days as a means to achieving an overall drop in capacity of 33 per cent.
In a statement, JBS Australia said it started the process of closing its meat processing facility in Brooklyn on Monday for an "indefinite period".
"The decision was reached following extensive consultations with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Victoria," the statement said.
"The persistence of community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria and the directives from DHHS have meant it is impossible to operate JBS Brooklyn in the current COVID environment.
"JBS Brooklyn's beef and lamb processing workforce will be stood down for the period of time it takes for the Victorian Government and the Department of Health and Human Services to contain the community outbreak of the coronavirus."
Mr Stapleton said AME had been mandating face masks, temperature testing people entering its site and receiving helath statements from employees prior to the new government restrictions coming in, to reduce the spread of the virus.
"Regionally we saw Colac have an issue with coronavirus, but currently there are certain regions that have very low or no cases, but it can easily get out of control so I can see where the government is coming from," he said.
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