24 Apr 2014

Laid-off workers 'treated like cattle'

8:55 pm on 24 April 2014

The union for some Otago workers laid off from a major timber company says they have been treated like cattle.

Southern Cross Forest Products went into receivership seven weeks ago when it ran out of cash. The company is closing its Balclutha sawmill and laying off 79 people from its sites throughout Otago. The company employs 400 staff in Otago and Thames.

Timber sawmill.

Photo: PHOTO NZ

First Union's Otago-Southland organiser Ken Young said on Thursday that receivers KordaMentha and management called in all the workers on Wednesday, separated them into two groups, and sacked one group on the spot.

Mr Young said workers were not given any support or information about redundancy options.

"Absolutely disgusting, the way they've handled the announcement of the redundancies. They've treated them like cattle. There was no support there for the workers - they were just told, 'You can work out your notice period, bye bye, you don't need to come back.'"

Mr Young said he understands the company's Milburn sawmill was also shut down two weeks ago.

KordaMentha has kept the company trading while trying to find a buyer, but has struggled to lock down adequate wood supplies.

Receiver Brendon Gibson said on Thursday it had no choice but to close Southern Cross' Rosebank sawmill site in Balclutha. He said a fire at the Mosgiel site near Dunedin two weeks ago, which caused major damage, is a factor.

The company's Australian business is being wound down because it has never been profitable Mr Gibson said, but receivers are still trying to sell Southern Cross as a going concern.

The South Island restructuring does not affect the company's plants in Thames and the receiver says it will try to protect the remaining jobs.