10 Oct 2011

Former freezing workers celebrate plant closure anniversary

6:42 am on 10 October 2011

The settlement of Whakatu south of Napier came alive over the weekend, when more than 150 former workers at the Hawke's Bay Farmers Meat Company sheep and beef plant, gathered to celebrate 25 years since it closed.

Whakatu, as it was commonly known, was one of the largest meat plants in New Zealand, employing almost 2000 workers, the majority of them Maori.

Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana, who worked there for 16 years after he left school, says the closure in October 1986 caused despair and trauma for many Maori families.

Marae communities went from 100% employment to almost total unemployment.

But 25 years, Mr Tomoana says later many former workers have carved out successful careers as lawyers, teachers and business leaders.