CQ meatworks looks to Syrian refugees to fill worker gap
TEYS Biloela has begun the process of sounding out community attitudes as the business prepares for the possibility of bringing in Syrian refugees to work at its meatworks.
The plant has relied heavily on migrant workers for the past several years to stay operational and currently employs about 70 to 80 foreign nationals.
General manager Duncan Downie said the plant had been running about 15% below capacity for the past few months after losing about 45 workers during the Christmas shutdown.
"We're still short of people," Mr Downie said.
"The cattle have been there but we haven't had enough people to run the plant.
"We were filling a lot of basic labouring roles with 417 backpackers but that supply seems to have dried up, so this Syrian refugee inflow of people has been on the table for a while."
The Federal Government has committed to bringing 12,500 Syrian refugees into Australia and will be looking to resettle them across the country with the support of local communities.
"They're not coming here to be a burden on the community and they're certainly not taking the jobs of locals," Mr Downie said.
He said he preferred employing locals as it was much easier, but they simply weren't applying in large enough numbers to fill the production gap.
"What's easier than: a local resident applies to work here, there are no language issues, they have housing and transport already sorted?" he said.
"If they enjoy the work they settle in and stay here.
"Last year we employed 55 locals and... 26 of them have since moved on and are looking for other opportunities.
"So it's not an easy solution, but it's a necessary solution.
"If we didn't have foreign people working here, I don't know how we would man the plant, and we can't operate without a workforce."
Teys has an ongoing contract with Access Community Services, which specialises in resettling migrant workers, refugees and their families.
The company's Friendly Nation Initiative is aimed at quickly and happily resettling refugees who have recently fled Syria.
Mr Downie said Teys was looking at employing up to a dozen workers from the war-ravaged country.
"There's no set time-frame for when - probably in the first half of this year," he said.
"Now we need to find out exactly what to do before we bring people here."
Teys Biloela was awarded the Business Inclusion Award at 2015's Australian Migration and Settlement Awards, providing a national example for community employment initiatives.
"I think we should be very proud of the way we've accepted foreign people into our community," Mr Downie said.
"Our whole district was developed with foreign immigrants. Look at the name of all the roads around here, they're not 'Smith' and 'Jones'.
"When this plant started here in 1962, many of the workforce were Greek, Russian and Italian immigrants.
"I would like to think that if you move forward 30 or 40 years, the people here now will be the ones that will be well-respected."