Silverstream workers 'in lurch'

The fate of the Silverstream lamb cut processing plant near Mosgiel is still unknown.

The lack of information is ''unsatisfactory'' and ''can't go on'', New Zealand Meat Workers Union Otago Southland branch president Daryl Carran says.

The Silver Fern Farms-operated plant's lamb cut season generally runs from December to May.

However, about 150 lamb cut workers at the plant were told in November the season would not start last month as usual and were offered positions at the Finegand plant near Balclutha.

Silver Fern Farms operations manager sheepmeats and venison Wayne Shaw said when contacted yesterday ''no date [had been] set or decision made'' about the opening of Silverstream this season.

He was ''still working on the basis'' the workers would start work ''later this year or early next year'' and there were no plans to close the plant ''at this time''.

About 70 Silverstream workers were ''redeployed'' at the Finegand plant, while about 85 workers had turned down the opportunity, he said. Mr Carran said the situation had ''left everybody in the lurch''.

''From the union's point of view, workers need to know where they stand and they [Silver Fern Farms] can't keep saying `the plant isn't going to open at this point in time, but we will let you know in the future'. They can't keep doing that,'' he said.

''You can't have a plant not operating for a season a year and say `come back later on'.

''The meat workers have been left in a very grey area and that just can't carry on.''

Mr Shaw said the Silverstream staff who were working at Finegand, as well as those who chose not to redeploy, were ''still on our books'' if the company did open Silverstream in the future.

''We would expect if we started up Silverstream, those 85 [people who did not take positions at Finegand] are likely to come back. Of course, we don't know until that happens,'' he said.

Staff could be redeployed at Silverstream ''based on our requirements, but it's pretty hard to predict what might happen'', he said.

Silver Fern Farms had also restructured the management of the two plants and four people were made redundant in a move which reduced Silverstream's salaried staff from 15 to seven and brought the management of Silverstream under Finegand.

The management changes would have occurred ''regardless of the issue we have of the season not having started yet'', but this season's difficulties had ''forced our hand'', Mr Carran said.

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