Friday, 18 September 2020

Why - Australia's biggest meat processors at odds over JobKeeper's influence on job cuts


A livestock crossing sign in remote central Australia
Claims that the JobKeeper program is distorting the beef cattle market have been disputed by others in the industry.(Supplied:

Claims the Federal Government's JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme contributed to the demise of hundreds of jobs at JBS Australia have been challenged by the labour hire company at the centre of the criticism and the meat processor's biggest competitor.

Australia's second largest beef processor, Teys, said it could not access JobKeeper and had not benefitted from the Federal Government initiative through labour hire companies.

Earlier this week, Australia's largest meat processor, JBS Australia, announced it would shed 600 jobs as it moved to scale back operations at its Dinmore plant in Ipswich.

The company had been heavily critical of the JobKeeper program, which it claimed had created inequality in the meat processing sector and contributed to its decision.

But Teys said, while it did use labour hire companies, it received no direct or indirect benefit from the wage subsidy.

"We are getting absolutely no advantage through labour hire companies accessing JobKeeper," head of corporate affairs John Langbridge said.

"We've effectively got nothing to hide, our tax records are made public, and you'll see exactly where our expenses are," Mr Langbridge said.

a row of beef carcasses in an abattoir
Some abattoirs are accessing the JobKeeper payments but the Federal Government rejects claims they are being used to create an uneven playing field.(ABC Rural: Alex Blucher)

Meanwhile, the labour hire company at the centre of the criticism said it was frustrated by suggestions of impropriety.

Regional Workforce Management, a specialist supplier to the meat processing industry, and its parent firm Food Industry People, said it did not pass on any of the JobKeeper subsidy to clients.

"We have not passed on any subsidy in relation to JobKeeper to individual clients that may not have been able to qualify in their own right," CEO Brad Seagrott said.

close up of a pen of droughtmaster cattle
A surge in prices means Australia's cattle are now the most expensive in the world, with joy for producers offset by struggles in the meat industry.(ABC Rural: Matt Brann)

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud also hit back at claims by JBS and the Australian Meat Industry Employees' Union (AMIEU) that the JobKeeper payment was distorting the market.

"We've always said from the start that the big businesses were big enough to look after themselves and their employees," he said.

"Had we not brought in JobKeeper, you may've seen significant job losses in small abattoirs and it's important not to generalise and say all abattoirs are getting it."

Mr Littleproud said the situation could be put down to supply and demand in the marketplace.

However, the Australian Meat Industry Council said it hoped the Federal Government would examine different models to enable all processors, regardless of turnover, to qualify for JobKeeper and other supports.

"It might be a bridge too far, but certainly we've been working on more novel ways to slow the impacts of COVID on our processing and further meat industry groups and as of yet it's still a standard response," CEO Patrick Hutchinson said.

Impact on the price of cattle

Other industry figures want more focus on potential weaknesses in Queensland's beef sector and less on JobKeeper.

"I think it'd be great if we could understand where the exposure is and what the possible gaps could be created by [the JBS decision to shed jobs]," Agforce cattle president Will Wilson said.

"[JBS] are the biggest [processor] and if we don't have them, what sort of state are we going to be in and that might be a market signal.

Meat for sale at a butcher shop.
The Australian Meat Industry Council wants all processors, regardless of turnover, to qualify for supports like JobKeeper.(ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

"We need at least two bidders [at the saleyards] to get market pressure, so the risk is when we lose bidders, and that's happening, that's where we start to see risk on market value and we need to try to protect ourselves so we've got someone in there bidding," he said.

Optimism in the beef sector

Southern Queensland grazier and former chairman of Meat and Livestock Australia David Crombie said, while processors were doing it tough, the long-term future of the beef industry was sound.

"Processors will buy cattle as cheap as they can to supply the markets they've generated [and] cattlemen will want the maximum price they can get for their product.

"It's an adversarial system but I think the fundamentals of the industry are strong and will come through this, but it may take some time."

Sourced from: ABC News, Australia's biggest meat processors at odds over JobKeeper's influence on job cuts, by  Jodie Gunders and Arlie Felton- Taylor (12th September 2020)

Why - Warrnambool City Council sued in Supreme Court over sacking of Peter Schneider as CEO


A man in a suit smiles at the camera.
Peter Schneider was dismissed after 18 months in the role.(ABC South West Victoria: Matt Neal)

Peter Schneider is suing Warrnambool City Council for unfair dismissal after he was fired as its chief executive just 18 months into the job.

Mr Schneider moved from Perth to Warrnambool in south-west Victoria in February 2019 to take up a four-year position with the council.

He was sacked in July at a specially convened meeting where councillors allegedly fired him without explanation four votes to three.

Dismissed without 'natural justice'

Questions emerged about the closed-door meeting as soon as it concluded.

Councillors Kylie Gaston, Mike Neoh, Sue Cassidy and David Owen voted to oust Mr Schneider.

He has accused the councillors of having a bias against him in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, which details his frustrations over what he claims was a dismissal lacking "natural justice".

Mr Schneider said he was not given the chance to hear allegations against him nor the reasons for his dismissal.

Mr Schneider is suing the council for "failing to afford [him] procedural fairness in making the decision to terminate his employment", saying the decision was made as a result of "actual or perceived bias".

The former CEO said he had yet to receive written notification from the council that he had been fired, and that he received a lump sum of more than $200,000 from council without explanation as to how that amount was calculated.

Council documents revealed the cost of Mr Schneider's termination was $364,000.

Warrnambool City Council has declined to comment.

A man in a jacket and collared shirt smiles at the camera.
Mayor Tony Herbert was one of three councillors who did not vote to remove Mr Schneider.(ABC: Matt Neal)

Accused of being 'vindictive, spiteful'

In his affidavit, Mr Schneider accused the councillors who voted him out of being deceptive in the way the special meeting was handled.

He said the councillors failed to act in good faith in calling a meeting "without disclosing either to me or to all of the councillors the true business of the meeting".

The court filing claimed Cr Gaston made three attempts to call a special meeting, eventually succeeding in passing a motion to "consider a confidential matter relating to the extent of council's contractual powers to terminate the CEO's contract of employment".

It is the handling of this meeting which Mr Schneider alleges was unfair.

He claims Cr Gaston had been seeking legal advice about his contract since February, five months before the dismissal.

Within his affidavit, Mr Schneider also revealed details of a "360-degree" staff survey in which councillors and external stakeholders were asked to rate his job performance.

Three councillors are accused of giving Mr Schneider a rating described by the consultant who ran the survey as "vindictive and spiteful".

Council in-fighting outlined

Within his document to the court, Mr Schneider also detailed "long-standing enmities" and political in-fighting between councillors.

He said the Local Government Inspectorate was called in to investigate claims he had caused unreasonable delays within months of commencing his position.

The claims allegedly related to a pontoon that was installed near the house of former councillor Peter Hulin.

Mr Schneider said he and Mr Hulin were cleared of any improper action by the inspectorate.

The affidavit also claims council's former governance officer allegedly bullied a council worker and accessed confidential staff personnel files as part of a bullying investigation.

Mr Schneider said the staff member emailed other councillors after he opened an investigation into her actions, accusing him of a "malicious and improper investigation".

He said the allegations were investigated by an independent investigator and found to be unsubstantiated.

Warrnambool City Council has yet to respond to Mr Schneider's affidavit.

The matter will return to the Supreme Court for a directions hearing next week.

Sourced from: ABC News, Warrnambool City Council sued in Supreme Court over sacking of Peter Schneider as CEO, by Daniel Miles (Thursday September 17, 2020)

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