VICTORIA’S largest meat processing facility – JBS Australia’s Brooklyn abattoir — is gradually returning to full production after suffering a COVID-19 outbreak about three weeks ago.
A company spokesman said the abattoir is “on a pathway to (a) gradual return to full capacity” after beef processing resumed last Friday and lamb production started yesterday.
JBS buyers are now active in livestock markets and a dispute with the union covering its cold storage workers has been resolved.
The company said JBS Brooklyn is the state’s largest meat-processing facility, providing jobs to about 1230 Victorians, and it is a vital link in Australia’s meat export supply chain.
The JBS spokesman said the company was pleased to announce the reopening of its Brooklyn facility, having worked closely with Victoria Health and the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the workplace is COVID-19 safe.
“The health and well-being of our employees, and the wider community in which we operate, is of paramount importance to JBS Australia.
“Since the facility’s temporary closure, our entire JBS Brooklyn workforce has been tested for COVID-19,” he said.
“We will continue to rigorously test our employees going forward, mindful that the safe continuation of operations at Brooklyn is in the best interests of local jobs, the local economy, and the continuity of meat supply for both Australia and the export market.”
The JBS spokesman said in addition to the deep-clean of the Brooklyn facility that has already taken place, the company will be conducting frequent and comprehensive cleaning of workplace areas.
The company will also continue to enforce the physical separation policies between its employees who work in different processing areas and has installed perspex separators.
“The siloing of our different processing areas within the broader Brooklyn site will also ensure that any suspected new cases can be contained to an individual area without impacting workers on the rest of the site.
“State-of-the-art thermal temperature checking technology will continue to be employed at the Brooklyn facility – as it is at all our sites around the country – ensuring continuous monitoring of employee well-being,” the spokesman said.
“Whilst we cannot control the community spread of COVID-19 Australia, we will continue to focus on the things we can control and ensure the level of precautions we are taking as a business are of the highest industry standard.
“We have rolled out COVID safety education programs for all our employees, across all of our facilities around the country, with information available in multiple languages, reflecting the diverse cultures from which we proudly draw our workers,” he said.
“We look forward to working with Victoria Health to ensure JBS Brooklyn continues to operate safely and are committed to keeping our stakeholders informed of the evolving situation.”
Cold storage workers return to work
Cold storage workers at the JBS plant ceased work at the plant early yesterday but returned to work after a constructive meeting with JBS senior management, workers, health safety representatives and United Workers Union. A union spokesman said the company agreed to a 30-minute separation between shifts and to giving workers a safety briefing before they start. They have also provided workers with clear details on cleaning regimes for all high-touch areas, the laundering of shared equipment, and on the provision of personal protective equipment.
“Because of these changes, workers have now returned to work,” the UWU spokesman said.
The JBS spokesman said JBS Australia has engaged in good faith with UWU at all stages of this pandemic – responding constructively to their every request for meetings and information.
“Their members are our workforce, whose health and safety has been our paramount concern at all times.
“Like them, we just want to safeguard jobs, safeguard the industry and safeguard the community in which we operate,” he said.
Victoria’s COVID-19 case total increases
Victoria today recorded 295 new cases of coronavirus since yesterday, with the total number of cases now at 9304.
Most of the new cases were related to aged care facilities, but the number of cases linked to meat processing facilities continue to increase.
These include 100 cases linked each to Tottenham meat packer Somerville Retail Services and to Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown, 78 cases to the JBS Brooklyn abattoir, 51 cases to the Australian Lamb Company in Colac and 10 cases to the Don KR smallgoods facility at Castlemaine.