Unhappy New Year - 125 jobs for the chop

NARELLE HENSON
Last updated 09:04 09/01/2014
Huttons
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

End of an era?: The Huttons factory is likely to close in March if owner Goodman Fielder’s meat business is sold to South Island-based Hellers.

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Eight days into a new year, about 125 meat workers in Hamilton have been told their jobs are likely to been gone by March.

Goodman Fielder, which processes several iconic meat products at its Frankton factory, has announced it had agreed to sell its meat business to Hellers, a Christchurch-based company.

The deal would see the production of Kiwi bacon and ham, Brooks Deli continental meats and bacon, Hutton's luncheon, bacon and ham, Sizzlers pre-cooked smallgoods and Milano cooked continental meats moved to Heller's facilities in Christchurch and Auckland.

The Frankton factory - an icon in Hamilton for which records date back to at least 1954 - will stay on the company's books as a distribution hub.

The $15 million to $17 million sale is subject to a consultation process with staff, but Goodman Fielder has recommended the factory close.

Goodman Fielder chief executive Chris Delaney said where possible, staff would be offered the opportunity for redeployment to fill vacancies at other Goodman Fielder sites across New Zealand.

The company has about 2000 staff, with natural turnover likely to provide places for those who lose jobs in Frankton. However, they would need to be willing to move with Goodman Fielder factories located in Puhoi, Auckland, Huntly, Hastings, Palmerston North and Wellington.

"Employees who are not able to be redeployed will receive their full redundancy provisions as well as an employee assistance programe, outplacement programme and careers workshop," Mr Delaney said.

He said the sale was a part of a divestment programme undertaken by the company in the past 18 months.

"Our strategic commitment is to focus our capital and marketing expenditure on our core categories and our meats business is not core to Goodman Fielder.

"The proposal to sell also reflects the very difficult trading environment and market conditions which have existed for the Meats business for some time."

Hellers founding director Todd Heller said the deal could see up to 50 jobs created, mostly at it's Kaiapoi site in Christchurch - despite a likely drop in production initially.

Staff from the Frankton factory would be offered jobs there should the deal go ahead.

"We certainly have got vacancies for staff. The only problems is quite a lot of the vacancies are in Christchurch because that's where we make all our bacon and ham and delicatessen meats, and the sausages are made in Auckland.

"There won't be many in Auckland, it's mainly Christchurch."

He also said the brands would remain the same, and were part of the company's plans for future growth.

"We're an iconic Kiwi company ourselves and these brands are totally iconic.

"What we'll do, we'll refresh them, but the brands will not change."

General Secretary of FIRST Union Robert Reid said employees were informed of the sale at 7am yesterday. The union has 96 members at the plant.

"It really was a shock to our people.

"Everyone was expecting to see that sale take place but it was seen as the white knight which would keep the plant open.

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"But instead we were told that Hellers had bought the brands but had basically said no thanks to the plant, to the workers and to Hamilton."

He said conversations up until the announcement yesterday revolved around the sale involving the plant, jobs and products.

Mr Reid said the union would be asking why the sale didn't include employees or the plant. It would also be working with its members on making the transition into other jobs. This would involve talks with Hellers, the Hamilton City Council and Goodman Fielder.

"There's still that one percent hope I guess that things could be reconsidered, but we are realistic enough to know that when statements are made to the stock exchange it's pretty cut and dried."

Hamilton Labour list MP Sue Moroney said the news was a "body blow" to Hamilton.

"It's 125 jobs on the back of about 500 other jobs that are going from Hamilton.

"I don't think Hamilton can keep suffering these big job losses.

"That's actually hurting our economy because every time those wages get sucked out of our economy it means another round of job losses."

Goodman Fielder has also agreed to a proposal to sell its pizza business to Mommas Frozen Products Ltd, which could see a further nine staff in South Auckland lose their jobs.

- Waikato

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