250 jobs to go as Sockburn shuts

DISAPPOINTED: Former staff member Mike Mora outside the Alliance meat plant  at Sockburn, which will close at the end of this season with 250 jobs lost.
DISAPPOINTED: Former staff member Mike Mora outside the Alliance meat plant at Sockburn, which will close at the end of this season with 250 jobs lost.

Earthquake-shattered Christchurch is set to lose at least 250 jobs from the closure of the Alliance Group's Sockburn meat-processing plant.

Freezing workers were told their jobs were on the line at an unexpected meeting yesterday.

They have work until the end of the season, probably between May and July, before they can take redundancy payments or accept the company's offer to shift to other plants.

The almost-certain closure, to be confirmed after four weeks of consultation, follows 250 positions being lost from Silver Fern Farms, which closed its lamb and mutton plant at Belfast in 2008.

Alliance chief executive Grant Cuff told workers the plant had not been profitable in the past few years.

There was no connection between the quakes and the plan to close the plant, he said.

Freezing worker Andrew, who did not give his surname, said the reaction of workers varied, with some staff upset and others keen to take redundancy.

"My missus took the phone call that there was a big meeting and we thought something was up and they might be shuffling things or downsizing. Not even the bosses knew something big was going to happen."

It would be difficult for workers to transfer to other sites, with the nearest plant, Smithfield, in Timaru, he said.

Former worker Mike Mora said the loss of the plant would be a blow for the community as it had provided employment for generations of families.

"It has been a bit of an anchor for the community and provided a lot of jobs, and with other freezing works rationalising, this is a loss," he said. "When I saw that group of guys out there, I knew it didn't look good for Hornby and the families reliant on this operation for so long."

The Sockburn plant had given the area stability when the doors were closed at the Islington freezing works and the Crown Crystal Glass factory in the late 1980s, he said.

Cuff said the Sockburn closing was still a proposal as the co-operative had to go through the correct process, but it had a responsibility to run a profitable business of 5000 employees at eight other sites.

"Emotionally, it's not positive because of the circumstances of the location of the plant, but it has not been profitable in recent years."

The co-operative had tried to provide workers with as much time as possible to consider their options, he said.

The staff roll rises to about 300 workers at the height of the season.

Alliance plans to relocate Sockburn's beef processing to the company's Mataura and Pukeuri plants, where capacity is being expanded, and venison processing to a new facility to be built at Smithfield. Pig processing will go to Ashburton Meat Processors.

The Press