18 May 2017

Mayor confident of jobs for Silver Fern workers

5:57 am on 18 May 2017

Ashburton's mayor is confident the mid-Canterbury town still has work to offer to hundreds of meatworkers who could lose their jobs next month.

Silver Fern Farms

A final decision on the plant's closure will be made in two weeks time. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

Nearly 400 people will be made redundant if Silver Fern Farms goes ahead with the proposed closure of its Fairton meat processing plant.

However, about 230 roles are available at other Silver Fern plants elsewhere in Canterbury and in Hokitika, which workers can take up.

Ashburton mayor Donna Favel

Ashburton mayor Donna Favel Photo: Ashburton District Council

And the mayor of Ashburton, Donna Favel, said there was work in the town - enough, she hoped, for people to stick around.

"We've got a new Countdown store opening ... I know that the agricultural sector here is often looking for more staff, and we've got one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, so I'm sure there are many employment opportunities for people to stay in our district."

The closure - the third Silver Fern plant to close since last October - is being held up as another sign New Zealand's agricultural industry is changing, quickly and permanently.

According to Beef and Lamb, sheep numbers have dropped from nearly 50 million in the mid-1990s to fewer than 30 million.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Dean Hamilton said the number of lambs passing through the Fairton factory had dropped from more than one million a year before 2010 to less than 500,000 last year.

A Silver Fern Farms shareholder, Allan Richardson, said it was just a matter of time until the Fairton plant shut its doors.

"It's not surprising, it's been well telegraphed ... the way the industry is, the way stock numbers have been falling, there is surplus capacity and Silver Fern have made the call."

Meat Workers' Union's national secretary Graham Cook said although it was a sad day, Silver Fern Farms had done a lot to ease the impact on families.

"There is a very good redundancy deal for these workers. Silver Fern Farms really values [them]."

A final decision on the plant's closure will be made in two weeks time.

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