Meat & Livestock News

Industrial Action Set to Disrupt Australian Meat Processing

Bearded butcher dressed in a fleece shirt serving fresh cut meat in a market.

The Australian meat processing industry is bracing for potential disruptions as the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has announced industrial action involving export processing meat inspectors and on-plant vets.

Scheduled for Wednesday and Friday next week, the action is a result of a wage dispute with the Federal Government and could see operations in beef plants across Australia come to a temporary halt.

The CPSU’s planned action includes an hour-long walkout by union-aligned meat inspectors and vets, alongside a ban on overtime—a critical issue at a time when many beef plants are extending work hours to cope with the high demand for processing services amid worsening drought conditions.

The impact of the industrial action is expected to be significant, potentially halting production for at least an hour, with some plants possibly choosing not to resume operations in the afternoon due to the disruption. This comes at a particularly challenging time for the industry, which is already grappling with the effects of recent fires.

It’s important to note that the industrial action is limited to export plants and does not affect domestic licensed beef and sheepmeat plants. However, for facilities operating two daily shifts, the impact could be doubled.

Industry stakeholders have expressed concerns, with large beef plants potentially losing a minimum of 500 head of cattle per day due to the disruptions.

The CPSU’s strategy appears to be aimed at exerting maximum pressure, with the union’s actions likely to affect everyone along the supply chain, including consumers.

The move has been described as cynical, exploiting the critical roles that meat inspectors and plant veterinarians play in agriculture and the food supply chain.

This is not the first instance of such industrial action; similar stoppages occurred four or five years ago during previous CPSU agreement negotiations. One proposal from the CPSU includes a day-long stoppage, which, if implemented, could reduce the national weekly kill capacity by approximately 20%, equating to around 26,000 head.

While industry associations have the option to appeal against protected actions on various grounds, including national interest, it remains unclear whether an appeal will be lodged in this instance, considering the potential animal welfare concerns.

The Federal Government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has advised processors that it has limited capacity to mitigate the impact at the national level but is committed to assisting as much as possible.

Processors have been encouraged to reschedule production or focus on domestic or alternative markets to lessen the impact of the stoppages.

The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) has condemned the CPSU’s approach, acknowledging the importance of plant vets and food safety meat assessors but criticising the use of their roles to leverage broader public servant bargaining.

AMIC CEO Patrick Hutchinson expressed disappointment at the timing of the action, which coincides with increased livestock numbers awaiting processing due to anticipated dry conditions.

AMIC remains hopeful for a resolution that avoids industry disruption and urges all parties to consider the broader implications of the action. The council is prepared to support its members and the wider community through this challenging period.