With around 470 staff, the JBS Meatworks is Bordertown’s biggest employer. Almost two-thirds of its workforce are migrants. But unlike the Filipinos who come as skilled employees on temporary 457 visas, many of the newer members of the company’s labour force are asylum seekers and refugees who mostly arrived in Australia by boat. Plant manager Trevor Schiller says these workers are crucially important to the business: “From a regional point of view, Bordertown has low unemployment and without the migrant workers we probably wouldn’t operate,” he told the Border Chronicle in June this year.
Slaughtering and processing up to 8000 animals a day, the JBS plant helps keep local farming prosperous, supplying Australia and the world with Halal-certified lamb and mutton. Not only that, but by spending their wages in local shops, renting local houses that might otherwise sit empty and using local services, the plant’s migrant and refugee workforce help the town itself to thrive. In direct contradiction of immigration minister Peter Dutton’s federal election claim that “illiterate and innumerate” refugees would “take Australian jobs” or “languish in unemployment queues,” Bordertown’s migrants are not only working but also creating and sustaining jobs for local workers.
The largest group of refugees in Bordertown are Hazara, an ethnic minority from Afghanistan and Pakistan. As Shia Muslims, they have suffered persistent persecution, particularly at the hands of the Taliban and other Sunni militias. Alongside them are refugees from Iran, Sri Lanka and various countries in Africa. In fact, at least twenty-three different cultures are represented in Bordertown, and most have been drawn by jobs, especially at the meatworks.
This story isn’t unique to Bordertown. As the latest immigration department statistics show, “skilled meatworker” is the second-top occupation for 457 visa holders in South Australia, and the sixth-highest occupation grouping for 457 visa holders in Queensland. So versions of Bryan and Loreen’s story are being played out in Murray Bridge and Rockhampton, and probably also in Cobram, Scone, Albany and elsewhere around the nation. In Australia, there are many bordertowns.