20 Apr 2015

Sanford announcement 'came as a surprise'

6:54 pm on 20 April 2015

One of the workers laid off from Sanford's Christchurch mussel factory says being told today was their last shift came as a surprise.

The Sanford Seafood factory gates

The Sanford Seafood factory gates Photo: RNZ

The 232 staff had been told almost two weeks ago that Sanford was considering closing the plant, and that was confirmed this afternoon.

Solema Tauiliili said staff did not expect the outcome going into the meeting.

"We thought it must be another week but they just tell us last week and then today we are gone.

She had worked at the factory for seven years. Her husband, Peter, worked there for the last 18.

They now face the prospect of no job and a limited redundancy package.

"We feel sad and feel worried. How can we get food for our family? The winter is coming. I'm so scared because my husband is turning 60 this year and I think it's too hard for people turning that age to find another job."

The couple also had a large family to feed with four grandchildren, her daughter and husband who was injured the the Christchurch earthquake, and her son at home.

"My son is 16 years old, that is another thing I'm worried about, how can we pay his bills and support him through school?"

Sanford has offered staff work at their other plants, but with a family reliant on their support a move away from Christchurch is out of the question.

"I can't do that. I can't just stand up and go. It takes about three months to do that and shift and by then we have no money."

For Mrs Solema and her husband the redundancy package was not set to be much.

"It's not fair. Some people have been there for 25 years, 24, and my husband has been there for that long and it's not enough money?"

Operations to be combined

The final decision to close the factory came after consultation with the workers employed at the Riccarton site, who were told on 9 April that Sanford was considering the closing the plant.

Sanford's chief executive Volker Kuntzsch said all staff, even those with very little service and no redundancy entitlements, would receive at least four weeks' pay, and a paid four week notice period.

Mr Kuntzsch said Sanford would combine the Christchurch factory's operations with the company's processing facility in Havelock, near its mussel farms in the Marlborough Sounds.

Sanford's chief operating officer Greg Johansson said there were five other Sanford plants in New Zealand, and depending on the now redundant workers' mobility, they may be able to re-locate.

He said if the company took on 10 or 20 workers in each plant, they could employ up to 100 people.

He said offers of employment for displaced staff had come in from more than 30 Canterbury-based companies.

The company said recent weather patterns including warmer waters and less rain caused a significant drop in mussel production.

The Service and Food Workers Union said Sanford's redundancy packages were an insult to staff.

"One of our union members has been there 25 years, it's not going to be easy for him to find a another job. He's a mussel processor and has been for years, he's not likely to just slot into another job quickly.

"The longer serving workers are usually given a better redundancy provision to respect that."

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