Swickers general manager Linchon Hawks speaks at a community business meeting on Monday night.
Swickers general manager Linchon Hawks speaks at a community business meeting on Monday night. Rhiannon Tuffield

Swickers disaster 'not all doom and gloom'

SWICKERS management hope the abattoir will be up and running within 18 months and have stood by their commitment to workers and the long-term expansion of the factory.

In a meeting with South Burnett businesses on Monday night, Sunpork Group CEO Robert van Barneveld and Swickers general manager Linchon Hawks said the fire-damaged factory would be rebuilt "as soon as possible", with $100 million to be spent on an upgrade and expansion of the facility.

Dr Robert van Barneveldsaid the expense would not only go towards the damaged building, but also plans to extend the site's kill floor and create an additional boning room.

He said the company wanted the clean-up and rebuild to occur "as quickly as possible", with the worst-case scenario being 18 months or more.

"In the next two years we have upwards of $100 million to spend out there, and we want as much of that spent in the local community as possible," Dr van Barneveld  said.

"If we can be clearing the site and reconstructing from tomorrow, that's where what we'll be doing.

"We recognise it might take longer, but the sooner it gets back to the way it was, the better it is for everybody."

The company reopened the majority of its factory within a week of the fire that destroyed its boning room and meat chillers.

Mr Hawks said the biggest obstacles the company faced was getting the chillers back up and running and returning workers from Ipswich to Kingaroy.

Currently, 120 workers from the boning department have been relocated to a processing facility at Ipswich.

The staff will stay in the town's hotels for the first month of work, before a temporary community will be built to house workers for as long as it takes to rebuild the Kingaroy facility.

Dr van Barneveld said the workers would be adequately compensated for being taken away from their community and had the option to travel home to their families whenever they needed.

"At the end of the day you can always take some good out of the bad and this is going to be one of those good stories," Dr van Barneveld said.

Swickers workers 'grateful' for Ipswich opportunity

The wife of one Swickers boner has spoken of the blatant excitement from workers who boarded a bus set for Ipswich this morning.

Wife Tonia Gilbert, said her husband Rhys had worked away for four years in the gas industry and had returned to Kingaroy only recently to take up work in the factory and be closer to his family.

Mrs Gilbert said news of the fire had devastated the family, who were unsure what it meant for their future, but the company had restored a sense of hope.

"He was on the bus this morning to Ipswich and the excitement of the people on that bus, and the gratitude that they've got for you guys is just amazing," Mrs Gilbert said.

"They're just very grateful, so thank you so much."

Mayor relays his support for Swickers

South Burnett Regional Council mayor Keith Campbell has come out in support of the pork processing plant, which, he says, restored a sense of security within the community after the fire.

Cr Campbell said he was proud of the way the employer handled the disaster, and hoped other local businesses followed by example.

"I think it's very timely to say right up front, Rob and Lincoln, just how proud we are of the management expertise that you guys have been able to put together to reinstate a high level of confidence with your workers," Cr Campbell said.

"And with the reinstatement of confidence with your workers, you have made the entire community feel a lot more safe and secure as well."

Despite an initial sense of upset within the community, Cr Campbell said he had every faith the disaster would leave a minimal, if not positive, impact on the town's business and economy.

Cr Campbell said Swickers' support of its employers would leave lasting effects.

"Families will not be relocating permanently and they will return on a weekly basis if they need, and that's a very wholesome approach on Swickers' behalf," Cr Campbell said.

"I have no doubt Swickers will do everything they possibly can to ensure that they retain the workers that they have.

"I also think the impact could more likely be positive as a result of the disaster, and there will be opportunities for the local trades industry to pick up some business."