18 Sep 2015

Silver Fern foreign buy-in result of Government 'disinterest'

3:35 pm on 18 September 2015

The sell-off of half of New Zealand's largest meat company to foreign interests is a result of a failure of Government leadership on other options, says the Meat Workers Union.

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Photo: 123rf

Silver Fern Farms has announced Chinese meat processor Shanghai Maling will invest $261 million in the company, prompting fears it could lead to the closure of a number of its meat plants.

The Meat Workers Union has been reassured about the future of Silver Fern Farms but National Secretary Graham Cooke said the union's had past experience with overseas ownership and workers are rightly wary of plant closures and any impact on pay and conditions.

Mr Cooke said foreign investment had been beneficial in some cases, for example Japanese investment in ANZCO, so workers will pay close attention to what happens next in Silver Fern Farms.

He said the union met with Silver Fern Farms management this week and it is encouraging that they are prepared to include union members in the discussion about their future.

"Our primary concern is obviously job security for our members. The package that has been put together seems to address many of the concerns that our people had around the table. Any questions that were raised were answered satisfactorily and generally I think most people were quite positive as a result of the meeting."

Mr Cooke said the union had been told it will be business as usual at the company despite Shanghai Maling poised to take a 50 percent stake in the company.

He said the union is heavily involved in seeing what the Meat Industry Excellence group and Food and Beverage Taskforce is doing.

"And I know there are a lot of people who have been saying Silver Fern Farms needs to shut plants but there are equally other plants around the countryside that may not measure up as well and I am talking about in terms of over capacity across the industry. But I don't think those issues will ever be addressed unless the Government is more hands on."

Mr Cooke said it was interesting to note Shanghai Maling is substantially owned by the Chinese Government, yet the Government here has no interest in the future of the meat industry.

"We've got a Government here in New Zealand that doesn't see any interest ...we're getting absolutely no signals from this Government, in terms of a New Zealand incorporated approach to the meat industry, just absolutely no vibes at all."

He said the Government needed to do more to consolidate the meat industry and safeguard its future.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said his door is open to the meat industry to discuss any options for reform, but there has been no clear consensus across the whole of industry.

He said the last thing the industry needed was a solution imposed by politicians.

Shareholders will vote on the proposed investment on 16th October.

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