The Alliance Group has confirmed 240 employees at its Pukeuri plant in North Otago will be stood down, possibly for several weeks, while it sorts out a labelling error that's disrupted its sheepmeat shipments to China.
The Ministry for Primary Industries suspended the plant's certification for China last month after incorrectly labelled cartons of sheepmeat were shipped there.
The cartons were labelled on the outside only, when they should have had a label inside as well.
The company said that was due to an administrative error that had since been rectified, and it was now waiting for MPI to restore its certification.
In the meantime, it would process the sheep and lambs at its Smithfield plant at Timaru and continue processing bobby calves at Pukeuri.
It said affected employees would be called back once that plant was fully operational, which it hoped would be only a matter of weeks.
But Meatworkers Union national secretary Graham Cooke said that was hard on the 240 members and their families who were relying on the income.
"We're anticipating that they'll be terminated this week sometime. And hopefully it's only for a week or, at the worst, two weeks ... and it could even be longer. I'm hopeful that it's not," Mr Cooke said.
"It is something that they weren't counting on."
The incident is the third labelling or certification snarl-up to disrupt New Zealand meat exports to China since June.