By Kirra Grimes

OVER a third of the original workforce is expected to return to the Tabro Meats export abattoir at Lance Creek when it recommences operations next year, according to the latest update from new owners MMG 1829 Holdings (MMG).

On track to reopen under the new name ‘Mandeville’ in late January/early February 2021, after several years’ closure, the Korumburra-Wonthaggi Road facility will officially pass into MMG’s hands in the next couple of weeks when the Australian company settles the deal with former owners, Hong Kong-based firm Abax Global Capital.

MMG originally intended to have things up and running by August this year, after announcing the purchase of the plant in late July.
When COVID-19 restrictions tightened in August in response to a surge in Victorian cases, the opening was pushed back to October.

But MMG’s executive chairman Tim Clarke told the Sentinel-Times last week there were still a number of practical and administrative matters to be resolved before the beef-only facility was able to start processing cattle again; and with the festive season fast approaching, that work was unlikely to be finished until the new year.

“Everything’s on track and all going ahead with lots of planning organising for the reopening; but basically, there are a whole heap of factors – COVID mainly – that have slowed the process down,” Mr Clarke said.

“It’s just getting everything done with the documentation, the financing, dealing with Abax… there’s a whole myriad of things that have made the process a lot longer, but fundamentally, COVID has slowed everything down.

“But hopefully that’s worked out for a better result in that we’ve dodged the COVID peak, or at least the second wave, with meat processing being a higher risk industry,” he said.

Among the preparations still to be completed were the purchase of new refrigeration and air conditioning equipment from overseas, with some items taking up to 14 weeks to arrive; and setting up the supply chain for cattle, which were expected to be delayed in getting to market and to command very high prices when they did, after what’s been a “phenomenal” season.

Designs for a new cold boning room were well advanced, however, works to upgrade the plant were yet to start, Mr Clarke said.

“We’ve done a lot of preliminary work in terms of tidying up around the place and getting quotations and we’ll be ready to pull the trigger as soon as we settle, which will be in the next 21 days,” he said last Thursday, October 22.

As for the 200 to 300 jobs promised in announcing MMG’s acquisition on July 22, Mr Clarke said a large proportion would be filled by former Tabro employees, however, there were “still significant roles that need to be filled”.

“We’ve started recruiting and doing interviews to fill a lot of the key positions like the plant manager, as well as the maintenance team, and we’ve had a very good response,” he said.

“About 35 to 36 per cent [of former Tabro employees] are coming back, which is really good. And we’ll start recruiting quite a few more slaughtermen and boners in the next little while.

“We’ve got [former Tabro CEO] Shaun Brorsen staying on as CEO and we think we’ve got a great team of people lined up.

“There’s a good talent pool out there and it’s great at a time when a lot of jobs have been lost to be able to employ 200-odd people, and more as we grow.”