Union call for govt to save fish jobs

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 05:00 12/10/2013
Independent Fisheries
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ

RESTRUCTURE: Independent Fisheries general manager Mark Allison.

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The union for workers threatened with job losses at a Christchurch fish processing factory is calling for Government intervention and a halt to the processing of New Zealand fish overseas.

The 200 jobs are at risk as long-standing fishing company Independent Fisheries looks at closing its Woolston processing plant after losing sales in its export markets to Asian competitors.

Chas Muir, of the Service and Processing Workers Union, said 90 per cent of value-added fish products made from fish caught in New Zealand waters was processed overseas, mainly in China.

"The processing provides no jobs at sea or on land for New Zealand workers and is undercutting our ability to compete," he said.

New Zealand quota holders were processing their fish at the overseas factories to get a "bigger bang for their buck", he said

Workers at the Woolston plant were devastated at the news although their contracts contained a redundancy provision.

"This is a tragedy. This is a worker-friendly company," Muir said.

Ian Hodgetts, also of the union, said the Government needed to play a role.

"The solutions must include strong Government support to enable this Christchurch business to maintain their workforce."

Fisheries Minister Nathan Guy was short on offers of help but said the Government had brought in a range of policies to help fishing companies, including increasing quota levels and investing in better harvesting techniques.

"The Government is also requiring all foreign chartered vessels to be reflagged to New Zealand by 2016," he said.

Independent's general manager, Mark Allison, said intense competition from heavily discounted foreign-sourced product in its key markets had forced his company into the move.

"The move is the result of fierce competition from mainly Asian-sourced processed fish products of similar quality at much lower prices," he said.

The market issues were compounded by damage to the Woolston facilities from the Canterbury earthquakes.

"We understand the concern that this announcement will cause for our staff, many of whom have been with us for a considerable time. We will be consulting with them and their representatives."

The company planned to announce the outcome of the consultation process on November 8.

Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the closure, if it transpired, would be a significant blow.

"There's plenty of work out there but the question will be how to match up jobs and skills," he said.

Independent Fisheries is owned by Charles Shadbolt and various family trusts, founded by Charles' father, Howard, in 1960.

It had its beginnings as a small fish and chip shop in Linwood in 1956 and at its peak the company employed 400 staff.

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