Meatworks staff 'test positive'

BY EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2010

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More workers have tested positive for drugs at a troubled Southland meatworks plant, a union boss said.

Otago Southland Meat Workers Union secretary Gary Davis yesterday said at least six employees at the Talley's/Affco-owned South Pacific Meats plant at Awarua, near Invercargill, had tested positive for drugs about three weeks ago.

This followed 18 of 20 sawmen at the same plant testing positive for cannabis about two months before that, Mr Davis said.

The plant has been under the spotlight in recent weeks after the Labour Department said it had investigated 19 incidents of serious harm at the plant, including six workers amputating fingers on bandsaws, in the past 18 months.

South Pacific Meats had a long-running disregard for health and safety in the use of bandsaws, the department said.

South Pacific Meats denied the claim.

Yesterday, the department's workplace services group manager Maarten Quivooy said three of the 19 serious harm investigations were continuing.

Mr Quivooy, who would not respond to questions about the drug issue, said the department had been working closely with South Pacific Meats and the New Zealand Meat Workers Union to resolve issues at the plant.

Both parties had shown a real willingness to make change and good progress had been made, Mr Quivooy said.

"The department is aware of current issues in the relationship between Affco and the meat workers union which are not restricted to Awarua. However, our primary focus is on improving health and safety at the Awarua plant."

New Zealand Meat Workers Union Otago Southland president Daryl Carran said it was seeking answers from South Pacific Meats and the Labour Department relating to health and safety issues at the plant, including how much training the sawmen had received and what their workload was.

Mr Carran said the union was against drugs in the workplace but it had concerns about how South Pacific Meats was administering its drug and rehabilitation policies onsite.

It was also investigating whether there were inconsistencies in how staff who had tested positive for drugs had been treated, he said.

South Pacific Meats plant manager Malcolm Hampton declined to answer Southland Times questions regarding the drugs issue.

Drug testing was a matter for the company and employees and involved strict confidentiality requirements, Mr Hampton said.

Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Hay said drugs in the workplace was an issue employers underestimated.

"It's something that has to be carefully monitored in areas such as manufacturing where there's machinery.

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"A lot of employers don't think it's happening when it could very well be happening," Mr Hay said.

Drug testing enhanced health and safety in the workplace but employers should first ensure their workers were aware of any workplace drug testing policy, he said.

Silver Fern Farms, which operates 22 meat plants, and the Alliance Group, which operates nine meat plants, said they carried out pre-employment drug tests and "reasonable cause" drugs tests in their plants, but not random drug tests.

- The Southland Times

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