About 160 families in the parish – most from the Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian communities who are on 457 temporary work visas – have been facing an uncertain future since the January 3 fire at Thomas Foods International. Under the conditions of their visa they are sponsored by an employer to work in Australia and without work they would be forced to return to their home country.
On January 28, Archbishop Wilson and Vicar General Fr Philip Marshall visited Murray Bridge to meet with some of the families affected. They promised fee relief for anyone needing it at St Joseph’s School and also encouraged families to seek the assistance of Church services offered by St Vincent De Paul Society and Centacare Catholic Family Services.
In addition, members of the school community donated uniforms for families in need and the local parish collected money to assist families who were struggling financially.
St Joseph’s principal Adrian Brown (pictured above) said the fallout of the fire resulted in the loss of about 17 enrolments and a dozen or so applications for fee remission.
“It would seem that things have settled down with most of the workers either working at Lobethal or transferred to Tamworth. Some workers not on 457 visas have moved to other places of employment,” he said.
“One Vietnamese dad said to me today, ‘I have a job and I am happy’ and his response was genuine and truly filled with joy.
“Our 457 visa holders don’t ask for much nor do they expect much, they have a very humble existence and really want to make a new life for themselves in Australia.
“The fire just made it a bit tougher for them, but on the other hand when the plant is rebuilt they should have a state-of-the-art workplace and hopefully their working life will be a little easier.”
Thomas Foods International’s HR manager Morna Young said since the fire the company had been focused on providing the “best possible outcome” for its workforce.
“There have been many challenges along the way but despite the difficult circumstances, the company has been able to redeploy a large proportion of the original workforce,” she said.
“Thomas Foods International has been in direct contact with all remaining workers from Murray Bridge, as well as local church community leaders. We continue to work with these employees regarding their individual circumstances, and in line with our industrial agreement, to achieve the best possible outcome.”
Ms Young said that the company had recently opened a new office in the town to serve as a central contact point for employees, suppliers, customers and the broader community.
“We have a local team available to answer questions and discuss employment, training and supplier opportunities while free counselling services will also be provided. The team includes our newly appointed chaplain, Darren Lovell, who is available to meet with any staff member feeling overwhelmed, struggling in any way or would simply like a personal and confidential discussion.”
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