A Shark Lake abattoir is understood to be mothballed yet again, leaving producers on tenterhooks - just 14 months after reopening.
South American red meat giant Minerva Foods breathed new life into the meat processing facility near Esperance, which reopened its doors July last year.
However, this week industry sources said the site had been closed indefinitely, with - while not yet confirmed - tens of thousand of sheep booked in to be processed from Esperance and outside the area.
Scaddan sheep farmer David Vandenberghe found out about the abattoir's closure via Facebook - a week before he was due to have 340-head killed.
Mr Vandenberghe was able to swap his sucker lamb booking for old-season Merinos in the paddock, however said he was set to lose at least $40 per head on each animal by doing so.
He said closing an abattoir during spring flush was a "fair kick in the guts".
"(Minerva) initially shut in August for maintenance and were meant to reopen today, but no such thing.
"It would have been good if they cleaned out what they had on the books and then shutdown.
"It is really disappointing for the region and industry, particularly given the other processors are already under such pressure with kill space.
"Producers now have to consider sending their sheep to major meat processing players in WA, including Fletchers, V&V Walsh and WAMMCO."
Mr Vandenberghe said the closure would affect the smaller producer, for example those, who have 200 to 300 lambs.
He said often those producers waited for available space on a truck to get into a meat processor and, as such, bookings could be tight.
"Minerva were really competitive on price, so their closure is disappointing," Mr Vandenberghe said.
"Another issue is there is now a large number of old season lambs, which people have hung onto, waiting for the abattoir to reopen.
"They probably should have got rid of them a month ago."
Mr Vandenberghe said Minerva had sheep agisted out, and feeders did not want to be left with those sheep.
He said negotiations were underway with other abattoirs.
"It's not like everyone else is waiting around for someone to deliver them sheep, they are all busy as it is."
In a statement Minerva chief executive officer Iain Mars said the company was conducting a review of the facility.
"Minerva Foods Australia (MFA) have been operating an abattoir and boning room in Esperance for just over a year, during which time there has been extensive renewal of the existing facility alongside development of operational, procurement and sales capability," Mr Mars said.
"At this time, MFA have taken the decision to undertake a review of operations at Esperance to fully analyse what further investment is needed.
"Whilst this review is being conducted, the Esperance site will not be operating.
"Where possible staff will be redeployed to other facilities in the MFA group with a small number taking up redundancies.
"All existing meat orders will be fulfilled by MFA through their operations in Tammin and Victoria."
Aaron Dsilva, Perth, was looking forward to a fresh start in life by moving to Esperance with his son.
Mr Dsilva said he was contacted via social media about a job advertised with Minerva Foods, Shark Lake and was flown down for an interview.
The position advertised was a farmhand with the company, whereby he would have been looking after livestock, before they were put through for processing.
"I was contacted a week later and offered a job contract," Mr Dsilva said.
"A four-week start date was given, which gave me enough time to sort everything out before I moved to Esperance.
"This included resigning from my job in Perth, receiving my Q fever vaccination and completing my pre-medical employment test, before I started working."
Mr Dsilva was then apparently informed it would be another two weeks before he started due to circumstances within the abattoir.
He was then upset to hear they were shutting down operations indefinitely, and everyone would be stood down.
"I'm now looking for work, preferably as a farmhand, because that is what I wanted to do when I came to Esperance," Mr Dsilva said.
"It's been difficult but I'm hoping something will come my way soon.
"It is a really sad thing, not just for me, but for everyone who has lost their jobs at the company."
At the time of Farm Weekly going to print, Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union Federal secretary Matt Journeaux said the union had not received official confirmation Minerva Foods was closing its Shark Lake abattoir near Esperance.
However, Mr Journeaux said labour hire firm, Labour Solutions Australia, had approached JBS at Dinmore, wanting to place 27 of about 80 Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme workers hired at the facility.
"To me that is pretty solid confirmation that Minerva is closing," Mr Journeaux said.
"(The labour hire company) indicated to our president that they were closing and were looking to find employment for PALM scheme workers."
Mr Journeaux said the union was looking to support affected workers by hosting them in WA or over east.
He said it was exceptionally tough for those, who had uplifted their entire life, for the job and to move to Australia.
"They live a subsistence lifestyle in a Pacific country - they come over here to work and earn money to send back home to their families.
"They've sort of set their life up for the next four years around that.
"And then for that rug to be pulled out from under them is pretty devastating."
Mr Journeaux said PALM workers were employed on a sponsorship visa and, as such, had to be hired by an approved employer.
He said it was fortunate in this circumstance, as labour hire companies generally have different relationships around the country, not just that particular employer.
"There are probably some pretty good opportunities that they'll be able to be redeployed at other meatworks," Mr Journeaux said.
"At the end of the day, I think to house 80 workers across most of the processing facilities in Australia wouldn't be something that can't be achieved.
"Typically those that have come from the Pacific Islands.
"They generally don't have many meat processing skills when they arrive, so it depends on the length of time that they've been here."
Mr Journeaux said the majority of workers would be in labouring roles, as Minerva had only been open for 12 months.
He said generally the longer PALM scheme workers were here, the more skills they were able to pick up.
"Some are boning and slicing and slaughtering at other plants now, but I'm not sure whether that was the case of Minerva."
With a question mark hanging heavy over the future of Minerva's Tammin facility, Mr Journeaux said he was told doors would stay open.
However, there was uncertainty as to for how long.
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