Sanford workers 'still can't believe' jobs have gone

Sanford employees (from left) Karen Wilson, Linda Evans, Andrew Ryan, Leanne Davis and Tabitha...
Sanford employees (from left) Karen Wilson, Linda Evans, Andrew Ryan, Leanne Davis and Tabitha Jessiman have an uncertain future at the Bluff factory. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
For 30 years, Karen Wilson has been the breadwinner for her family.

That might be about to change.

The 61-year-old Bluff resident is among the 30 Sanford employees who might lose their jobs.

The seafood company this week announced a change to its processing sites and signalled potential job losses in Southland.

Its Bluff factory would focus on premium salmon production, while whitefish processing would be carried out at the Timaru site.

Mrs Wilson described the situation as "surreal".

"It has been four days since we heard the news and I still can't believe it," she said.

"I have worked there for half of my life and they treat us like a number. I feel shell-shocked."

She was worried about her employment prospects if let go by Sanford.

"I think it will be harder for me to find a job because of my age. It is very stressful, this situation."

Single mother Tabitha Jessiman was in a similar situation.

She said she could not tell her 8-year-old daughter the family's job security could be threatened.

"I think she felt that something was wrong but I did not want her to be worried," Ms Jessiman said.

"I have to be strong for her and hold everything together.

"We have bills to be paid and meals to be made.

"We will fight for our jobs."

She has been working for the company for 12 years, and was disappointed by how the company told workers their jobs were at risk.

On Tuesday, she got a letter which said her job was "disestablished."

"I put my heart and soul into my work. I have been loyal, and worked for a minimum wage without complaint. And I'm not alone here," Ms Jessiman said.

"I know we were one of the best teams ... This is the way they thank us?"

Mrs Wilson and Ms Jessiman were among the 50 Sanford employees who had a meeting with the workers' union, Etu, in Bluff yesterday.

Workers who had been told their jobs were safe went to the meeting to show their support.

Andrew Ryan feared for the future of his job.

"I don't think anyone in the factory will feel a certainty ever again. We have no trust in them."

He said the company painted its motto, "purity, integrity and passion", on the factory's wall, and that had been hard to swallow.

"They should be acting as they preach. It seems they do not care about the employees at all."

Etu organiser Anna Huffstutler said the meeting was to support the workers as they were angry and emotional about the situation.

In the next few days, the union would formulate its strategy.

A petition and a community meeting were being considered.

"They want their jobs and we will fight for them."

Sanford chief executive Volker Kuntzsch said this week the company's move was about creating three "centres of excellence" across the South Island, and the change would mean some job losses in Bluff.

Mr Kuntzsch said the company would not know how many jobs would be cut until the consultation process ended, but the company's target was to "only cut 20" of the 30 roles at risk.

"Our focus is finding a solution for every single person."

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