Weekend job losses, pay cuts loom for meatworks

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 22/09/2012

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Blue Sky Meats could axe its weekend slaughtering shifts and ask remaining workers to do more for their money.

The company has put forward a proposal to the Meat Workers' Union to cope with falling livestock numbers.

If cuts go ahead, up to 100 jobs could be on the line, while other workers could see wage cuts of up to 20 per cent, the union says.

Blue Sky Meats chairman Graham Cooney, who said he had not done the figures on the proposed wage cuts, said last year's financial loss had prompted the changes.

The company had to strengthen the position of its shareholders, livestock suppliers and workers, he said.

The weekend shift was made up of seasonal workers who would not be taken on for the next season and the remaining workers would work more time with no additional pay, Mr Cooney said.

"Sadly, the time has come where we have to be competitive with industry wage rates. We also have to aim for a return to our shareholders . . . if you don't have shareholders, you don't have a company," he said.

Mr Cooney said a cut to the weekend slaughtering shift would affect follow-up departments such as the boning room.

"We must also attempt to at least maintain good incomes for the majority of our staff if we are to retain them."

The marketing department, livestock procurement and administration had already been asked to do more work for their money, he said. If the proposals were not accepted it was back to the drawing board.

Meat Workers' Union Otago Southland secretary Gary Davis said he had met workers this week to talk about the company's proposal. He said workers would not accept a 20 per cent wage cut.

At the meeting, concerned workers said some staff earned more than $100,000 a year and wage cuts should start at the top, said Mr Davis. "It's a cheap shot by the board at Blue Sky Meats to try to reduce workers' wages."

He said management had indicated it would hold off the November killing season until an agreement was reached.

Lincoln University Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness Keith Woodford said as long as there was excess capacity then the meat companies were going to struggle.

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