Australia’s meat processors have demanded action from both sides of politics on soaring energy costs and labour shortages ahead of the federal election.
The $25 billion industry is frustrated with inaction on a comprehensive energy policy with power prices hurting across the supply chain.
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said his members, which include processors, butchers and smallgoods manufacturers, employ 100,000 people nationally.
He said a lack of competition in rural and regional Australia where many processors are based meant some businesses faced $1 million rises in energy costs over a 12- to 18-month period.
“Stop the politics of ideology and start looking at those employers’ profitability,” Mr Hutchinson told AAP.
“What we’re looking for is actually a far-reaching overall energy policy that doesn’t lose itself in one key area.”
He said processors were facing hard decisions about whether to operate at full capacity, while consumers could also pay the price with energy costs being felt across the board.
“All of a sudden you get a piece of steak which has five different levels of increased energy costs applied to it,” Mr Hutchinson said.
Workforce shortages are also impacting the industry, with training, illicit drugs and fitness – especially in the regions – key issues.
Mr Hutchinson said AMIC’s research showed prospective workers were failing or missing drug tests, and others weren’t meeting fitness requirements to work in the industry.
“I’ve been belted personally by the union – the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union – about the suggestion we’re out there saying they’re drug-addicted and lazy, which is not what we’re saying at all,” he said.
“As one of the biggest employers in rural and regional Australia, we want to be part of the solution.”
The AMIC chief said it was a “myth” overseas workers were cheaper than local employees, with the visa system under the coalition not helping employers.
He said Labor’s plan to raise the minimum wage for overseas workers to $65,000 would cost the industry $15 million.
“Beyond a short-sighted solution, there isn’t a solution. In fact it’s madness because it’s not addressing any issue,” he said.
There are also concerns Labor’s plan to phase out live sheep exports with a switch to processed meat exports is without the infrastructure and labour to cope with demand.