Thomas Foods' Murray Bridge fire prompts staff redeployment talks

TALKS: Thomas Foods in Tamworth may take on temporarily redeployed staff as a result of a fire in the Murray Bridge plant. Photo: Janie Barrett
TALKS: Thomas Foods in Tamworth may take on temporarily redeployed staff as a result of a fire in the Murray Bridge plant. Photo: Janie Barrett

TALKS are continuing about the possibility of Thomas Foods International (TFI) meat workers being redeployed to Tamworth at least temporarily after a fire at the Murray Bridge plant.

Chief executive officer Darren Thomas said yesterday the company had “the ability to redeploy staff ... but it’s too early to work out what that will look like”.

“As the extent of the damage becomes clearer, we’ll understand what the next stage will be,” he said.

A spokesman today said there would be no details available on “what the implications are for Tamworth” until it was clearer how greatly the South Australian operations had been affected.

There were no details available on how many workers could come or when; where they would be housed; or what the effect would be on local employees.

TFI is Australia’s largest family-owned meat processing company, with an annual revenue in excess of $1 billion.

It also has plants in Tamworth, which has the capacity to process 27,100 lamb and mutton per week; Lobethal, SA, with a capacity of 24,000 lamb, mutton and goat per week; and Wallangarra, Qld, where capacity is 15,250 lamb, mutton, and goat per week.

Fire in bin

Metropolitan Fire Service’s Phil Kilsby has said the “extremely intense” fire in Murray Bridge began while a worker was doing some welding to maintain an offal bin.

The blaze has caused millions of dollars worth of damage, he said.

However, no staff members or livestock were injured in the fire.

Mr Thomas said there was “certainly going to be some disruption to the Murray Bridge facility”.

“At this stage it’s too early to say how long that is going to be,” he said.

“What we do have is other facilities within Australia – Lobethal in the Adelaide hills, Tamworth in country NSW – [where] we’ll be able to redeploy some production.

“So there’s going to be some interruption in the very short-term ...

“Until we’ve actually sit down and looked through what the plan is for redeployment and production, it’s too early to tell exactly what we’ll be doing with any employee.”

Family tragedy

Mr Thomas said the business in the city would “be back bigger, better and stronger”.

“We’re committed to this industry,” he said.

“I’ve literally seen 20 years of my life, almost, evaporated before my eyes, but I’m committed more so than ever to returning Murray Bridge to the jewel of the crown that it was in South Australia …

“Obviously it’s not the call you want to get on the third day of the new year, but we’re a strong family.

“We’ve been through unfortunate tragedy in our lives, with the loss of my sister, and my most important thing when I got the phone call was that there were no injuries.”

Meat safe

Mr Thomas said he wanted to “allay any fears” there would be a shortage of meat in the state or the nation as a result of the incident.

“We’ll be able to fulfill our commitments,” he said.

“We’ve been making arrangements in terms of our orders for our beef to be processed in other sites, and we’re able to manage all existing orders through our other two plants ...

“You’d be hard-pressed to see any difference at the counter.”

This story Meat worker redeployment to Tamworth on cards after SA fire first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.

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