Plant not closing

Silver Fern Farms' Silverstream lamb-processing plant near Mosgiel will not open for the start of its season as usual in December - but it is not being closed.

While the plant's 12-strong management team are in consultation over potential redundancy, Silver Fern and the New Zealand Meat Workers Union are confident the Finegand plant near Balclutha could take the up to 180 boning staff should they choose to transfer there.

With no staff meeting or statements sent to individual staff, there is confusion over the plant's future and it was ''inadequate for workers to be left dangling'',

Otago-Southland Meat Workers' Union branch president Daryl Carran said. ''Because Silverstream is for overflow processing, to bone lamb at the peak of the season, it's more open to volatility.''

Silver Fern chief executive Keith Cooper confirmed when contacted there would not be a start in December, but he was confident Finegand had the capacity to take the boning staff.

When asked if or when a meeting would be held or a statement would go to staff, Mr Cooper said the company was ''in consultation with staff and did not want to mislead them'' in making a statement, given the ''fluid situation'' of the meat markets.

''We are dealing with the management team first,'' he said. It could include redundancies or transfer to other Silver Fern plants.

Mr Cooper said declining numbers meant about 300,000 fewer lambs this season for Silver Fern, but both he and Mr Carran hoped a European turnaround in demand and prices could open Silverstream.

Mr Carran said staff not wanting to go to Finegand should not have their re-employment rights disadvantaged, while for those going to Finegand it would not be considered a permanent transfer.

Mr Carran said with Finegand's seasonal turnover at 25%-30% and coupled with internal job moves to the recently reinstated 40-person casing department, Finegand would have the capacity to employ Silverstream staff.

However, he expected some staff would opt to remain in Dunedin and look for work elsewhere.

Several staff, on condition of anonymity, called the ODT yesterday saying they had not been advised directly by Silver Fern on the plant's future but were contacted on Friday by a Finegand staff member and offered work at the plant.

Another staff member of about 15 years said while there had been ''rumours around'' about the forthcoming season, he was ''shocked and pretty bloody disappointed'' to find out about the situation following a similar call from Finegand management.

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