Mataura works could lose more than 300 jobs

TERRI RUSSELL AND COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 29/09/2012
alliance workers
NICOLE GOURLEY
ON TENTERHOOKS: Meat workers at the Mataura Community Centre for the Alliance announcement.

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More than 300 jobs could be affected after Alliance announced yesterday it planned to move sheepmeat processing from Mataura to Lorneville.

The proposal has upset workers and concerned others in the business sector.

Hundreds of workers gathered at the Mataura Community Centre to hear the announcement yesterday afternoon.

After the meeting, Alliance Group chief executive Grant Cuff said about 260 sheepmeat processing employees and 65 trades people and salaried staff would be affected. Meatworkers could transfer to the company's Lorneville plant but he could not confirm jobs would be available for the 65 trades people and staff.

"We believe we would have vacancies for 260.

"Salary people are more stable . . . less turnover. It will be a smaller group," he said.

Mataura's beef operations, which recently had a $15 million upgrade, would not be affected.

Some workers could have the option to move into beef depending on the season, he said.

The recent closure of the company's Sockburn plant, a drop in sheep numbers, bad weather conditions and land-use change prompted the move, Mr Cuff said.

Lorneville was a bigger plant that could operate all its eight chains and cut overhead costs for the company, Mr Cuff said.

Workers' contracts included redundancy options but there had not yet been any discussions, he said.

The company would meet with the meatworkers' union next week and the consultation would take about four weeks.

"If the proposal stands, it won't reopen in November."

Neil Cowan said he had worked at the Mataura plant for 41 years and had no idea what to make of the news.

"I dunno whether to take redundancy, go with beef or go to Lorneville."

Falls Hotel manager Paul Matheson said the changes would affect local businesses.

"It's not just the freezing works, it will affect businesses.

"It's Gore just as much as Mataura, and all Eastern Southland," he said.

Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks said he was "gutted" for the Mataura plant workers.

"This is a kick in the face for workers. From the early 1990s they backed change in operations and took pay cuts to ensure the viability of the plant continued," Mr Hicks said.

Otago Southland Employers Association chief executive John Scandrett said Alliance was protecting itself in a very competitive market.

"They exercised good management moving to Lorneville and making corporate changes to a low manufacturing base," he said.

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Otago Southland Meat Workers' Union representatives could not be contacted.

Alliance is one of several Southland businesses which have looked at staff cutbacks over the past few months.

Earlier this month New Zealand Aluminium Smelters management announced it would lay off about 65 staff during the next two months, while last week Blue Sky Meats proposed cuts to weekend shifts, which could affect up to 100 jobs. Other regional job losses in recent months have included 10 redundancies at the Conservation Department's Invercargill office, with a further eight shifted to Christchurch and Wellington, and eight fulltime and 13 part-time roles affected by the closure of The Southland Times print plant.

Last September, the Inland Revenue Department announced 54 staff would be cut from its Invercargill office.

AT A GLANCE

750 people are employed at the Mataura plant

Alliance Group made a $15 million upgrade to the beef processing plant at Mataura

100 jobs could be on the line at Blue Sky Meats if a proposal to cut weekend shifts goes ahead

Southland dairy cattle have increased from 252,000 to 627,000 since 2000

Spring storms and dry summer have driven sheep numbers down

Sheep numbers dropped 35 per cent between 2000 and 2012

Alliance Group had a net loss of $9 million after tax and pool surplus distributions year ending September 30, 2011

About 300 jobs lost when Alliance recently closed its Sockburn plant in Christchurch

About 250 jobs lost from Silver Fern Farms, which closed its lamb and mutton plant at Belfast in 2008.

- The Southland Times

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