43 jobs axed at Mossburn works

Silver Fern Farms is closing its venison processing plant at Mossburn. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Silver Fern Farms is closing its venison processing plant at Mossburn. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Silver Fern Farms has axed more 43 Mossburn meatworkers' jobs as it rationalises killing shed numbers across the country.

While the closure is vaunted as an ''opportunity'' for Silver Fern Farms, the Northern Southland job losses will gut the micro-economy of Mossburn, with its population of barely 200.

The new killing season at Mossburn was just about to start; now, plant decommissioning will start next month.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Dean Hamilton was contacted and rejected the suggestion the local economy could be gutted.

He said farmers would remain in the district supplying stock processing, and if Mossburn staff commuted to other plants and stayed in the area, he expected ''only minimal impact to the economy''.

''A six-month [killing] season [at Mossburn] is not long. Two of the other plants in the catchment will [now] get longer seasons,'' he said.

Mossburn is a venison processing plant, and 43 jobs will be affected. At the mutton-processing Wairoa plant, in the southwest of Mahia Peninsula in the North Island, 67 staff are affected.

Mossburn, which hosted New Zealand's first deer farm in the early 1970s, has styled itself the ''Deer Capital of New Zealand''.

The president of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Meatworkers Union, Daryl Carran, was contacted and said there was only ''short notification'' by Silver Fern over the restructuring.

While staff knew venison volumes had ''plunged'' and last year was ''a very poor season'', some would still have been shocked by the closure, he said.

He asked other employers in Northern Southland to ''come forward'' with any work for the displaced staff.

''Mossburn's a small place and with not many work opportunities,'' he said.

He cited numerous industry concerns leading to sheds shutting, ranging from killing overcapacity, declining numbers of breeding ewes and subsequently lambs, fewer bobby calves and the impact of dairy conversions.

Last season at Mossburn, a meatpacker grossed only $14,600 while one of the highest paid workers grossed about $20,000, he said.

''Some suspected it couldn't carry on like that,'' Mr Carran said.

During Silver Fern Farms' recent negotiations with Chinese company Shanghai Maling to take a $260 million controlling stake in the company, there was speculation the future of several plants could be under a cloud.

Mr Hamilton said the closure of Mossburn and Wairoa was ''not conditional at all ... and not subject to them becoming owners''.

He highlighted a 20% downturn in the venison kill from 400,000 last year to 320,000 would mean herds could now be rebuilt, which ultimately meant more processing in the future.

While he confirmed decommissioning of Mossburn would start next month, Mr Hamilton said the two sites were owned by Silver Fern Farms and would not be a ''pot of gold'', when they were sold ''over time''.

Redundancies would be paid to those who decided not to commute, he said.

When asked if any of the remaining 16 plants were under threat of closure, Mr Hamilton said ''only two were approved for closure. [However] we have got to look each year with the flow of stock,'' he cautioned.

Mr Hamilton said that with changing livestock flows, there was the opportunity for Silver Fern to become more efficient and offer its farmers improved service by operating fewer plants for longer during a season.

''Both plants operate in regions where we have other plants which can manage the combined levels of livestock processing in the region,'' Mr Hamilton said.

The plan was outlined to Mossburn's workforce at 10am yesterday.

Mr Hamilton said the Mossburn employees were given options to work at the company's Waitane plant near Mataura, 90km from Mossburn, Kennington near Invercargill, 100km away and Finegand in Balclutha, 150km away.

''We have a great group of people at both sites, a number of whom are already working at these alternative locations and we will be discussing these options with the [Meatworkers] union and the consultation committee,'' Mr Hamilton said.

Analysis of the red meat sector in general last year found a 53% overcapacity in the sheep industry and 41% in the beef industry, noting the South Island's then 15 processing plants had the capacity to process 26 million lambs, while New Zealand's total lamb kill was 21 million.


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