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'We do not have a sustainable business': Ipswich jobs gone

FIVE hundred employees have lost jobs as a major Ipswich employer announced it will shut down.

Churchill Abattoir has confirmed it will cease operations. The last day of cattle slaughter will be Thursday, September 28.

It comes after months of rumours circling the struggling facility. Company director Barry Moule said cattle shortages and high prices had devastated the beef industry.   

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"Without the capacity to pass on increasing costs, our customers have struggled to maintain cattle numbers," Mr Moule said.   

"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."   

Another 300 to 400 jobs will be lost when the Steggles chicken processing factory at Wulkaraka closes in January. 

During the past few years Churchill Abattoir 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.   

All employees will be paid entitlements and the abattoir may reopen in six to 12 months time as an export plant.   

Mr Moule said he had kept staff updated on the unfolding situation since October, which may have lessened the shock.  

"I feel gutted I am probably strengthened by the response from my staff who have been with me for up to 17 years," Mr Moule said.   

"I broke the news to staff (Monday) at 1pm and they have taken it in good spirits."  

Last year cattle prices rose to the highest in 35 years following a severe drought period.  

High cattle prices in the saleyards means higher prices in the butcher shops and supermarket shelves, but profit margins for the processors caught in between haven't risen.   

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 the slaughter houses to the butcher shop," Mr Surawski said.  

The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union says it will do everything it can to support affected workers.   "It'll be devastating for the local community. How can you take that amount of wages out of the local area and it not have a significant effect on the local economy," union spokesman Matt Journeaux said.

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Topics:  churchill abattoir editors picks ipswich business


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