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A legal claim for redundancy payments could possibly be taken on behalf of workers at Silver Fern Farms' lamb processing plant at Silverstream near Mosgiel, whose season's work never began last year.
Up to 60 of about 140 processing-related Silverstream staff have taken up Silver Fern's offer to travel to Finegand for work, leaving about 80 with no start at Silverstream. The plant has in the past processed overflows of lambs and sometimes bobby calves from, other meat works.
Nationally, this season's lamb kill is down about 1.8 million on a year ago. The South Island's share of the decline amounts to 1 million and Silver Fern's share is about 300,000 less.
Further compounding the problem is China wanting larger meat cuts or whole carcasses, which can be further processed in Asia.
The New Zealand Meatworkers and Related Trade Unions has formally notified Silver Fern Farms it believes it may have a legal claim to seek redundancy payments on behalf of the 140 process workers.
However, the union will wait through February and possibly March before taking any further action, as Silver Fern could still open at some some, Otago Southland branch president Daryl Carran said, when contacted yesterday.
''Silverstream highlights the problem across the country,'' he said of falling lamb numbers and decline in further processing requirements.
Mr Carran said the sector, across the country, was being hit by overseas requirements of lamb carcass processing being cut just six or eight ways. More mutton carcasses were going out whole.
Mr Carran said the Asian markets were doing their own further processing on lamb and mutton exports.
He said while 50-60 had got work at Finegand, some were travelling up to 90km, one way, to get to the plant. For others, bus times and rostering requirements made it impractical to get to Finegand.
Silverstream had at times worked almost year-round, when there were overflows of bobby calves for boning after the lamb season, but did not start as expected last December.
Mr Carran said while it could be several weeks before a decision was made on making a claim for redundancy payments, the issue would be raised when talks resumed next week with Silver Fern, on its multi-plant, South Island collective email@example.com