JOBLESS: Chris Hill and Beck George, of Bexhill, with their five-week-
JOBLESS: Chris Hill and Beck George, of Bexhill, with their five-week-

Booyong pig plant closes

By SHAN GOODWIN

shan.goodwin@northernstar.com.au

SIX weeks ago Chris Hill moved his family to the Northern Rivers from Toowoomba on the expectation of plenty of work at the Booyong pig processing plant.

Yesterday he was retrenched, along with 24 other full-time, part-time and casual workers.

The boning operations at Booyong, operated by the Northern Co-operative Meat Company and turning over $1.2 million a year, have been suspended. Ironically, just over a year ago the Federal Government poured $825,000 into making the facility state-of-the-art.

Few workers yesterday were willing to speak to The Northern Star, fearing any future employment with the company would be at risk.

General manager Gary Burridge last night confirmed he had advised workers not to speak to the media.

The company blames the closure of the plant, north-east of Lismore ? which will take effect next Friday ? on a lack of supply.

Mr Burridge said since the Government body Bio-Security Australia decided last year to allow the importation of raw pig meat into Aust- ralia, piggeries throughout the State had shut down or wound back their operations. At least three in the Northern Rivers have gone out of business, he said.

He said the disparity in road weight limits between NSW and Queensland had also contributed, which equated to a 16 per cent freight increase to Queensland producers who chose to process at Booyong.

Mr Burridge said the facility had been losing money for 18 months.

That's something Chris Hill felt he should have been told when he agreed to move. He and his partner, Beck George, were looking for a change of lifestyle after the birth of their new baby. They signed a six-month rental lease at Bexhill and enrolled their eldest child in a local school.

Chris gave up a senior position at a Toowoomba abattoir.

"There was talk among the fellas that it was closing, so I said to the foreman 'should I bring the family down', and I was given one guarantee after another that it wasn't closing," he said.

"That's what we're peeved about most. It's very unfair."

Mr Burridge said all retrenched staff would receive full entitlements and those eligible for redundancy would be paid in full. Staff would also be encouraged to apply for work in other areas of the pig operation.

But Mr Hill said that would mean a drop in pay of at least $100 a week.



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