In an effort to lift spirits, workers and families effected by the devastating Thomas Foods International (TFI) fire gathered together for a barbecue at Sturt Reserve on Friday.
Organised predominately by the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) and supported by various Murray Bridge businesses and organisations, over 200 people congregated to support one-another during this time of turmoil.
AMIEU organiser and former TFI workers Jayme Marshall was instrumental in setting up the event, and said he just wanted to help his friends.
“We tried to set something up so that, for one afternoon at least, the workers and their families could try and forget about everything,” he said.
Full-time worker Damien Hill said the fire had forced his family to reevaluate their immediate plans – due to having one young son another baby due in two months.
“It definitely threw a big spanner in the works,” he said. “I am worried not knowing what’s happening.”
He said his bank had put certain repayments on hold until April, but that he might have to start looking for other work until the facility was operational again.
“I don’t want to leave – I love working there, but it’s reality that I’ll probably have to look for work elsewhere in the meantime if we don’t hear anything today,” Mr Hill said.
Another worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said he worked in maintenance and was sympathetic towards his co-worker who accidentally started the fire.
“It really was just an unfortunate accident, so I feel for them,” he said.
He said he would prefer more communication from TFI, saying he felt there hadn’t been enough.
“Even if we were just told ‘we don’t know’… that would be better than not much at all,” he said.
TFI chief executive officer Darren Thomas said the company was working towards the best possible scenarios for all impacted.
“We’ve got a lot of plans and we’ll certainly be talking more about them in the weeks to come.
“It could take a bit longer than some might hope, but we are 100 per cent committed to rebuilding here, and we’re committed to our workers and to the Murray Bridge community, because without them we wouldn’t be what we are,” he said.
Mr Thomas said the coming months would be testing.
“It is going to be hard before it gets better, but it will get better,” he said.
Premier Jay Weatherill made a surprise appearance to show support for the workers and families who were “still coming to grips” with the fire.
“It’s obviously a massive shock to have the abattoir burn down in that way,” he said.
“But it’s great that people have decided to gather together while they’re still in this really uncertain stage to support each other and that’s why I wanted to be here.”
Both Mr Weatherill and Mr Thomas both said there would be “important” decisions made in the coming weeks.
“There’s the big decisions about what the future looks like, but there’s also what they do in the meantime,” Mr Weatherill said.
“Of course that’s critically important for the 900 or so full-time workers out there that want to know whether they’ve got a future for themselves and their families at the meat works.”
Mr Weathrill said there was a possibility of federal and state government aid.
“We’ll stand with you all the way.”