Australia Restrictions ease on Victorian abattoirs but peak industry bodies frustrated with timeline

10:17  27 september  2020
10:17  27 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Meatworks in both metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria will be able to increase workforce numbers under the next step of the state's roadmap to recovery.

Last month, COVID-19 restrictions forced meatworks and distribution centres to move to two-thirds of peak production in a bid to avoid virus outbreaks.

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On Monday, regional meat processing facilities will be able to run at 90 per cent capacity, and in Melbourne, 80 per cent of workers will be able to return.

All poultry processors across the state will be able to operate at 90 per cent capacity, with the Premier citing animal welfare concerns for farmed birds.

The chief executive of the Australian Meat Industry Council, Patrick Hutchinson, welcomed the announcement, but said the decision should have been made weeks ago.

"About time, as an industry, we have been clearly showing how we've been able to manage this virus."

"We had those initial issues in metro Melbourne, but other than Colac causing some concerns, there have been no issues at all in processing facilities in regional Victoria."

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"We're very happy these draconian restrictions have now been lifted."

Regional Victoria is already living under the third step of the roadmap, allowing people to travel and hospitality businesses to reopen.

Multi-million-dollar investments

Mr Hutchinson said a "complete misunderstanding" of the agriculture sector by the State Government and Department of Health and Human Services was a major contributing factor for the "unacceptable" length the restrictions were in place.

"The Premier has said on multiple occasions that he understands our industry deeply, however, we're still struggling to see how that actually manifests itself."

"If he understood the industry as deeply as he says he does, it would have been a lot easier for us to show him all of the millions and millions of dollars invested that have been made in managing this virus."

Now that these restrictions have eased Mr Hutchinson said the processors would be ramping up production to make up for lost time.

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"I don't think it's too late, but that being said it's going to be very difficult for us to hit peak performance prior to that Christmas period."

"But I know members up and down the supply chain will be doing everything they can to ensure that people have as normal a Christmas as possible."

Kinks in the supply chain

CEO of Ritchies IGA, Fred Harrison, said it was vital the meat supply chain got back up and running.

"It's a massive step in the right direction," he said.

"It may be a gradual increase. Going to 80, 90, then 100 per cent is probably not a bad idea. It just allows us to tool up in a staged manner."

"We're moving into spring, with barbecues et cetera, meat consumption does go up, there's more breadth of range and if you've got the workforce reduced by 33 per cent and demand is increasing by 10 to 15 per cent,"

Mr Harrison said he welcomed the full return of workers to food distribution centres, but the whole food supply chain needed to ramp up production, especially since there had already been months of delays.

"Going into Christmas you've got to start to get turkeys, hams and a whole lot of other products as well, and with the limitations on workforce there's just [wasn't] the manpower to do the work."

"We need to understand there is a big build-up. You've got to plan Christmas. It just doesn't happen the day before."

"Every little piece helps, but we need to try and ramp-up to normal production."

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