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Pay talks had ground to a halt and the union and Silver Fern Farms had agreed to mediation, starting today. Ratification meetings a fortnight ago across several plants saw 97% of staff reject the status quo offer.
Meatworkers union national secretary Graham Cooke said in the pay negotiations, Silver Fern was offering its workers no pay rise in the first year, and only a 2% pay rise in the second.
''This, despite the industry seeing a 22-month high for beef and lamb and paying their own directors, chairman and chief executive double-digit pay rises,'' Mr Cooke said.
The bargaining round started several weeks ago, with the union seeking 3% plus 3% over two years and Silver Fern offering the status quo and 2%.
Mr Cooke said Silver Fern's directors' fees went up by 15% in 2012 then 7.8% last year, or 22.8% over two years, its chairman got 15% followed by 8.2%, or 23.2% over two years, while chief executive Keith Cooper got a 12.5% boost over three years then 4.3% last year - an annual salary over $900,000.
Mr Cooke said during the past year, the workers doing all the actual work Silver Fern Farms relied upon to pay those ''huge fees'', received only a 2% pay rise.
''The workers helping build the success of Silver Fern Farms deserve a better offer than a 0% pay rise,'' he said.
Silver Fern Farms' communications manager Justin Courtney was contacted, and passed on a message from the operations manager of sheep meats and venison, Wayne Shaw.
''We have agreed to mediation with the union and it would be inappropriate to discuss details while we are in that stage. No doubt we will eventually reach a resolution,'' Mr Shaw said.