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    Frew group managing director Robert Frew.

Wimmera employers look to fill staff shortages

BY DYLAN DE JONG 

A Wimmera employer will look to metropolitan Melbourne for workers to fill job vacancies when COVID-19 restrictions ease. 

Stawell’s major meat processor Frew Group is experiencing a staff shortage due to restrictions on international workers, who make up a large percentage of its workforce.  

Managing director Robert Frew said the State Government had lifted restrictions to allow abattoirs to return to 90 percent of their workforce last week. 



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“We had up to 500 workers at the start of the year and now we’re back to 420,” he said. 

“We could put another 20 people on tomorrow, and another 60 without restrictions. 

“We need to get back to our 500-
strong workforce and we’d really like to hit full capacity by February  or March next year.” 

But, Mr Frew said attracting people who lived in Stawell and district to work in these manual labour positions was ‘next to impossible’. 

“No one is knocking on our door for employment,” he said. 

“Each year we employ more and more people from overseas to fill our vacancies. 

“A lot of local people don’t seem to want to come into these industries.” 

Mr Frew said he would look to metropolitan Melbourne for people who had lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic to fill positions.  

“Once the all clear is given and we can move around all of Victoria, we want to be first cab off the rank to try to attract people from Melbourne – but another issue is housing, that’s our biggest issue in this region,” he said. 

“Our business will die if we don’t do something about it in the next four or five years because it is an ongoing issue. 

“Our workforce declining is not just because of COVID-19, we’re really struggling to find local people who want to work. The population in town is getting older and the younger people are leaving town.” 

Mr Frew said he believed the Federal Government’s JobSeeker and JobKeeper allowances were a disincentive for people to seek work in the meat-processing sector.

“The government has probably been a little overgenerous with their payments. Young people aren’t really looking for work at the moment,” he said.  

He said while it could be a labour-
intensive job, there was potential for people to build on experience and their qualifications. 

“You learn hygiene, sanitisation practices, knife skills and discipline of getting up in the morning and going to work,” he said. 

“When you make a CV, if you say you’ve worked at an abattoir, employers can see you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty and that you’re doing manual labour.”

Meeting demand

Member for Ripon Louise Staley said it was crucial for industries such as meat processing and agriculture to secure enough workers in the busiest periods of the year.  

Her comments came at a time when processors were expecting a ‘spring flush’ of new lambs to hit the market and add pressure to the industry.   

“We’ve got a seasonal need for a workforce as the lambs come off and we will also have a much bigger demand all the way across the eastern seaboard of Australia for harvest,” she said. 

“This provides a wonderful opportunity for those who have unfortunately lost their job because of the economic downtown or those who were working beforehand. 

“I would encourage people to look around for local industries that are looking for workers.”

The unemployment rate in the Wimmera fell to 3.5 percent in August and to 6.7 percent across Melbourne. But Melbourne also experienced the largest decrease in job vacancies across the country, with 44.6 percent fewer jobs posted online compared with previous years.  

This comes at a time when industries such as retail, agriculture and postal services are upscaling in recruitment in preparation for a busy spring and summer. 

Harvest bulk handler GrainCorp intends to employ about 3100 casual workers across Australia, with 900 in Victoria. Already more than 5500 people have applied. 

Australia Post, BWS and Dan Murphy’s are also set to collectively employ up to 6000 people across Australia in the lead-up to Christmas. 

BWS state manager Vic-Tas Alison McCallum told The Weekly Advertiser the company was seeking casual employees in Stawell and Ararat and was preparing to open a new store in Horsham. 

“We have casual roles for liquor team members available in our BWS stores in Stawell and Ararat. We are opening a new store in Horsham this week, which means we have created eight new roles in the area,” she said. 

Australia Post said there would be 1500 positions across Victoria but could not provide details about where positions would become available. 

The entire October 7, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!