Silver Fern Farms, union at odds

Keith Cooper.
Keith Cooper.
Talks between Silver Fern Farms and the New Zealand Meat Workers' Union (NZMW) appear to be in disarray.

NZMW Otago Southland branch heads say the talks have broken down and the union is getting set to take the dispute to court.

However, Silver Fern Farms chief executive Keith Cooper told the Otago Daily Times yesterday the call for a court date was premature.

The union represents 160 to 180 meat workers at Mosgiel's Silverstream meat processing plant who did not receive redundancies when the plant failed to open this season.

Otago Southland branch president Daryl Carran believed talks to secure the redundancies were unsuccessful and a court date was now being sought by the union to hear the case.

However, Mr Cooper believed the two parties were still in mediation.

''We are in a position where the plant may open this season . . . ,'' he said.

Mr Cooper said Silver Fern Farms was ''listening to customer requirements'' and responding in order to sell its product to achieve the best prices it could.

''At the same time, we have developed high-end markets with sophisticated branded retail cuts and are alone in the industry in having done so.

''It is the mix that matters. To get that mix right we are being flexible.

''Our people are seasonal contracted staff. They were offered roles at Finegand and we put on transport to assist them at the start of the season when we knew market demands had changed.''

Mr Carran said promises had been made by Silver Fern Farms over the past two or three years about the future of the plant, but none of it had come to fruition.

''There was all sorts of suggestions in the recent past, that they would be back in a short time processing bobby calves, and some [workers] would end up with year-round retail packaging jobs.

''These Silverstream workers feel continually let down by suggestions and promises that mean nothing and go nowhere.

''Words fail to describe the situation those workers are in.''

He said 70 workers from Silverstream took up the offer of work at Finegand at the beginning of their season, but believed it was an ''unsustainable situation''.

Workers were travelling from north of Dunedin, more than 240km to and from work each day.

''That's outside any reasonable travel and time distance in our view.

''We're not going to allow an employer which is covered by a redundancy agreement of this nature to just park up a site because of market forces, and dispense with their workers as if they have them on hold for 12 months.''

Labour Dunedin South MP Clare Curran also waded into the debate yesterday by expressing concerns about how long it would take to get a court date to resolve the issue.

She called for the case to be prioritised.

''It's outrageous that these workers and their families should have to wait any longer to learn their fate.

''Meanwhile, they are being forced on to the dole or into precarious or part-time low-paid work while the Government continues to turn a blind eye to the rapidly deteriorating state of the meat industry.''

Mr Cooper said he had explained the situation to Ms Curran at a recent meeting, but it appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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