A union for meat workers says employees at an Alliance Group plant are unfairly suffering for a labelling mistake made by staff at corporate level.
Alliance is to lay off 240 workers at Pukeuri near Oamaru after the Ministry for Primary Industries suspended its export certification to China last week.
The company said cartons of sheep meat were labelled on the outside but not the inside also, as China requires.
Alliance said the problem was caused by administrative errors, which it has now addressed, and it is waiting for the ministry to restore its certification. Sheep meat is being processed at its Timaru plant until that happens.
Meat Workers and Related Trades Union secretary Graham Cooke told Checkpoint on Monday that it could be anywhere from two weeks to a month before workers at the Pukeuri plant get paid again.
"The problem with meat workers today is they're employed at the will of the employer. So it's not uncommon for meat workers to be employed for three weeks, laid off for two weeks, and then be re-employed again for another four weeks. It is a real dog eat dog industry."
Mr Cooke said the labelling mistake wasn't their fault and they should be paid regardless.
Alliance said it regrets the situation, but workers would be formally laid off on Tuesday and Wednesday and there is no capacity for them to be paid until the company gets the export certification back.
National MP for Waitaki Jacqui Dean said both she and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy are very concerned and want to get the matter resolved "as quickly as possible".
It is the fourth time this year that New Zealand food has been blocked from entering China.