About 400 employees at Fletcher International Exports are feeling the brunt of WA’s worst sheep shortage in 50 years, with the Narrikup abattoir cutting back shifts and staff working hours.
Picture by Laurie Benson: Fletcher International Exports general manager Greg Cross
The abattoir has abandoned its full-time roster and will instead operate only three days with shorter shifts until its winter shutdown starts in June.
All employees have been offered reduced work, but 30 casual backpacker workers have lost their jobs.
Fletcher general manager Greg Cross said he hoped by cutting production in half, the abattoir could retain its workforce for the spring lamb season.
“I really feel for my workforce, we’ve got a great relationship; we work as a team and it’s not easy,” Mr Cross said.
“It’s not only emotional for the workers to receive the news we’re going to have to wind down our operations over the next three or four months, but it’s also an emotional task for me to have to deliver that message.”
The crisis is a blow to Albany’s workforce, which earlier this week were on a high as Rio Tinto flew new Albany recruits to its Pilbara mine site as part of a new fly-in fly-out program.
Albany resident Bonnie Ralph is one of those who no longer has a full-time job at Fletcher.
“I was let go last week, then this week they called and asked if I wanted to work three days a week,” Ms Ralph said.
“I needed the money because I want to move to Perth next year. I guess I’ll look for another job to go with the three days.”
It is understood some members of Albany’s migrant community who were employees at Fletcher have already left town to find new work.
City of Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said it was an unfortunate situation.
“That’s very disappointing as far as the City is concerned and as far as the workers themselves are concerned, you feel for them and their families,” Mr Wellington said.
“The company has tried to source as much product as they can and if there’s no sheep out there to buy, there’s not a lot you can do.”
Mr Wellington said market fluctuations were a problem the City of Albany experienced with the agricultural industry and were looking at possible solutions.
“We’re looking at things like fly-in, fly-out, different alternatives, to try and provide work for our people,” he said.
Mr Cross said reduced operations at the abattoir had been on the cards for the past year due to the shortage of sheep.
“If you look over the last six years in WA, the flock numbers have halved,” he said.
“We’re at 14.5 million sheep and lambs available now and that’s the lowest figure in more than 50 years.”