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Meat processing company looks at job cuts

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 13/09/2012

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Blue Sky Meats is looking at "reconfiguring" its slaughtering shifts to cope with what it says is a sinking industry.

The company declined to say if redundancies had been confirmed, but meat workers' union officials say they have been talking with management and up to 100 jobs could be on the line.

Less stock, extreme weather conditions and a marked shift towards the dairy industry have been blamed for a downturn in Southland's meat industry.

Blue Sky Meats general manager Ricky Larsen said the company was in the early stages of discussion but it was hoped details would be finalised in time for the spring killing season, which starts in November.

Mr Larsen said there were a number of proposals on the table and "shrinking the operation down," was one being discussed.

"You can either sit on your hands and hope or face the reality and proactively make decisions that put us in a position to go forward," he said.

Consolidating seasonal earnings for senior staff was also being considered, he said.

Meat Workers' Union Otago Southland secretary Gary Davis said he had met management and shift delegates over the past two weeks to discuss cuts to the plant's weekend shift and redundancy options.

More than 100 jobs could be axed if the cuts were made to the weekend shifts, he said.

Mr Davis said while redundancy clauses were not part of existing workers' contracts, the company could offer redundancy packages.

"The company have said they will look at paying some redundancies," said Mr Davis.

Some employees had worked for

the company for more than 20 years and deserved a payout, he said.

Mr Davis said other shifts were not immediately at risk.

Blue Sky Meats chairman Graham Cooney said three slaughtering shifts were run during spring but cutting back to two "could be one option".

The reconfiguration had come at a time when the entire meat industry was "sinking", he said.

"There's simply a lack of livestock, we can't just ignore the fact that there is less livestock."

Mr Cooney said one of the main challenges was maintaining a workforce when stock numbers were in decline.

He said workers' contracts did not include redundancy provisions. "Most of these people are seasonal; there is no obligation but it would be a voluntary thing."

Federated Farmers Southland president Russell MacPherson, a sheep farmer who converted to dairy seven years ago, said in the short term the lamb and beef industries were not looking promising because of the shift towards dairy and also a drop in the value of wool.

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Mr MacPherson said meat companies "should be very concerned" about the shift to dairy.

Silver Fern Farms livestock manager Andy Perry and Alliance Group chief executive Grant Cuff declined to comment on the state of the meat industry.

In March, sheep numbers in Southland and Otago were recorded to have fallen 25 per cent between 2000 and 2011, while dairy had increased 147 per cent.

- The Southland Times

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