Halal butcher lack threat to industry

Hundreds of Southland workers risk losing their jobs and a meat processing chain could close as a result of a halal slaughtermen shortage, a new report warns.

The latest Southland Murihiku Local Insights Report was released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment earlier this week, which analysed both the opportunities and challenges the region’s labour market was facing.

The report, prepared by Southland’s Regional Skills Leadership Group, said the region’s meat processing sector had a "significant vulnerability" given the lack of halal slaughtermen there.

The role was critical in order to meet market requirements for Halal meat and there was a risk of those processing chains having to close as a result.

"The potential knock-on implications include hundreds of workers losing work and/or potentially their jobs," the report said.

Alliance Group’s Lorneville plant, just outside Invercargill, had nine halal butchers on-site, but needed six more.

General manager manufacturing Willie Wiese did not directly address the report’s concerns, but said halal butchers provided the company with the "real flexibility" to match cuts to the needs of customers in the global markets and help lift the overall value of each carcass.

Across New Zealand’s red meat processing and exporting sector, halal certified products contributed about $3.7billion of annual export earnings.

"Which delivers strong returns for our farmers, rural communities and the economy," he said.

The report also found labour shortages in the primary sector were having a "detrimental effect" on employers and employee wellbeing in Southland, especially now with another Covid-19 outbreak.

The report said due to the continued inability to attract permanent on-farm staff, the rural sector was relying on contractors who were also having problems attracting and retaining staff.

Self-isolation requirements would also put pressure on labour for farmers and transport companies that were already stretched.

Federated Farmers Southland president Chris Dillon agreed with the report, saying it had the potential to be a "huge problem".

One advantage the sector had was that workers lived on the farm so would already be isolated.

If too many people caught the virus, it would bring the sector and the wider economy to a halt.

Federated Farmers, working with farmers around planning for Covid-19, had created a planning template they could use. Mr Dillon encouraged its use, and having a plan in place.

Another challenge facing Southland’s labour sector was short staffing in tourism and health.

There was concern about the health sector being able to deliver services safely.

The Government’s plan to reopen New Zealand’s borders throughout this year would provide an opportunity for the labour market, the report said.

The report also found the number of job seeker benefit recipients in Southland was down 11% in December compared to the figures from 12 months earlier.