'Blow to Bluff': Community devastated at proposed job cuts

A proposal to cut up to 30 jobs from a Bluff fish-processing would be "devastating" for the town, a community leader says.

The union for the workers affected, E tū, said today the proposal would cut "almost half" the workforce at Sanford’s Bluff fish-processing plant and move white-fish processing to Timaru.

Sanford chief executive Volker Kuntzsch said the changes were about creating "three centres of excellence" across the South Island, with Bluff focused on salmon, Timaru white-fish and Havelock mussels.

This unfortunately meant some job losses in the "short-term" for the Bluff team, he said.

"As we concentrate the white fish part of our South Island operations in Timaru, sadly we will see a loss of some jobs in Bluff.

"We are working through exactly what this will mean, as we consult with the team there on how many roles we can create on the salmon side of the business."

Bluff Community Board chairman Raymond Fife said if the proposal would be "devastating" for the community.

"For a small community it is a big loss."

There was the possibility of more jobs connected with Sanford's plans to extend its salmon farming operations but people needed jobs "right now".

"Three years is too far away."

Invercargill City Councillor, Lloyd Esler, who sits on the Bluff Community Board, said he was not aware of the news but such a loss in jobs would be " a blow to Bluff community".

E tū organiser, Anna Huffstutler said members were "completely in the dark" about Sanford’s plans until they were suddenly called to a meeting on Tuesday.

"That was the first we’d heard of these plans.

"Our members were completely blind-sided. It had never been mentioned before. There was no discussion, not an inkling that this was happening,” she says.

"The members are shell-shocked, absolutely shell-shocked. They feel like they’ve been lied to. They are really angry. Some of them have worked there a long time."

She said Sanford recently gained a resource consent to expand its salmon farms at Bluff, arguing this would bring jobs and benefits to the community.

"So, the community thought things were solid in Bluff because Sanford made a commitment that there would be more jobs if they got the consent. Now, what they’re saying is, that’s not going to happen for three years.

"People are furious, and they feel very misled."

She said the proposal appeared to be driven by profits.

"Sanford made a $66 million profit last year. So, I said to the CEO, Volker Kuntzsch, ‘How much is enough?’

"He told us shareholders want a $100 million profit and a 10% return on shares. So, it’s not like they’re doing this out of financial hardship,"

“Bluff’s a small place. There are no other jobs, so they’d have to look outside Bluff. It’s a real blow."

Mr Kuntzsch said he anticipated a "bright future" for its salmon operations in Bluff and talked about its plans to expand its salmon farms.

"We believe Sanford Bluff is establishing a growing reputation for the excellent quality of its salmon and we want to build on this."

It would work to move as many people as possible from Bluff's white-fish operation to roles in the wider business.

"We anticipate the process will take a number of weeks and we’ll also look at options for staff to take up new roles in Timaru if that works for them."

While Sanford would not be able to accommodate all affected staff, Mr Kuntzsch said he was hopeful about the likelihood of job opportunities created by the growing volume from the company’s salmon farm over the next few years.

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