“Food and grocery jobs must be saved” AFGC plea

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 6th October 2011

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) today urged the Federal Government’s Future Jobs Forum, at Parliament House, Canberra, to explore new ways of safeguarding jobs in Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing sector.

The Future Jobs Forum was a meeting called by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to bring together representatives from business, unions, government and academia to discuss the challenges facing Australian industry over the next decade.

Addressing the forum, AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said that some food and grocery manufacturing operations are already moving offshore because of challenges faced by the industry across the supply chain, especially labour costs and pressure on industry from the highly-concentrated retail sector.

Ms Carnell said, “In recent months, hundreds of job cuts have been announced due to the intense pressures on the sector. These cut-backs have included 150 jobs at SPC Ardmona by the middle of next year and 146 jobs at Heinz following closure of its Girgarre factory in north-east Victoria.”

According to the AFGC, industry employment declined as a share of the Australian workforce from 3.2 per cent in 2005 to 2.8 per cent in 2010 – a 10 per cent decline over this period. In 2009, the industry represented 30,104 businesses and paid A$14.7 billion in wages.

Ms Carnell said, “Industry’s competitiveness is being heavily impacted by a surge of cheaper imports due to the high Australian dollar. The weak retail sector is causing more discounting, affecting company margins – this spells danger for manufacturing, jobs and regional communities.

Ms Carnell stated that the Australian Government must consider several options such as fast-tracking the National Food Plan, reducing regulation and red-tape, providing a better environment for capital expenditure and innovation and creating a Supermarket Ombudsman to ensure a level playing field in the retail and supermarket industry.

“Consumers need to be confident about the quality and safety of food and grocery products, underpinned by Australia’s regulatory system – rather than be increasingly reliant on cheaper imports and private label products for our food supply,” she said.