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Australian Country Choice

Category seven – Best demonstrated leadership in work health and safety

The impact of COVID-19 on the meat processing industry extends from the health and wellbeing of employees, to staff in rural and remote locations being isolated by lockdowns, through to the commercial impact on the supply chain, from farms, to domestic and export freight, as well as the challenges of maintaining continuity through to retailers and customers.

Australian Country Choice (ACC) is an agricultural producer and meat processor with over 1200 employees. It responded immediately and efficiently to the pandemic and transformed the way its business operated in feedlots, properties and processing facilities.

Leadership was demonstrated from the beginning with open and constant communication to all employees and in a variety of languages other than English for their culturally diverse workforce. The senior executive team met routinely to identify risks and develop strategies to control them.

Amongst many other innovative solutions to the challenges of the pandemic, ACC provided paid leave for staff who may have been at risk of exposure to COIVD-19 to encourage them to take extra precautions and self-isolate, sending the message that management was prepared to share the responsibility with all the workforce and support staff to ‘do the right thing’.

Their comprehensive response had a focus on employee safety, wellbeing and business continuity. It has transformed the way that the business operates and has long-term benefits for their workplace culture, production and staff satisfaction.

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Anthony Lee, CEO

Australian Country Choice is a beef and cattle business. We have rural properties spanning 4.5 million acres. We have multiple feed lots and a processing facility in Cannon Hill. And we're really a service provider for our clients selling beef globally. When COVID firstly hit, we saw the writing on the wall before it even really got to Australia. It was important for us to get the crisis team together, our senior leadership team, and really make sure that everyone was aware and up to speed about what our thoughts were and where we were going. And then the second part was to get third party expertise in that could really help us understand how pandemics work, how viruses work, to allow us to make the most appropriate decisions. Some of the key things that we did early on before anyone was doing it, we really acted quickly, and they were: Masks came on immediately, everyone on site. We had quarantine areas where anyone of concern was isolated and checked by a doctor. We had segregation of offices. We set up multiple offices and sent people home. We had lunchrooms segregated, brought in more lunchrooms and put the Perspex dividers up for physical barriers. All our annual leave forms were adjusted to allow us to understand where everyone had been and going so we could understand how they integrated back in. We were early adopters of temperature guns at the gatehouse. Declaration forms for people, where they'd travelled to. And again, remembering, these are all things that came out before they were sort of commonplace these days. Cultural diversity, for us, is an ongoing, not challenge, it's a part of life for us. We have 61 nationalities just here at our facility. So, that was always a consideration about how we got messages out, in what formats and forums. Community leaders are key parts of that, the engagement with them. I think what drove the success was not one in particular thing. I think it was constant energy, and focus, and reflection. I think it was a whole myriad of actions collectively that has helped us get us to where we are today. Safe Food Queensland and Queensland Health have been very complementary and have taken a lot of what we've done on board and, I believe, have shared that with others. The most important thing for us, though, has been our employees and making sure that they feel safe, and that their families are safe, and the business is safe. And we've been working very hard at making that the right outcome and working as if we're a family in a family business.