The recession is driving structural changes to businesses, including the loss of 180 jobs at Nelson's Sealord plant, Prime Minister John Key said.

Sealord, owned jointly by Nippon Suisan Kaisha of Japan and Maori tribes via Aotearoa Fisheries, said yesterday it was seeking to cut 180 land-based jobs in Nelson and was not ruling out the closure of its plant there.

The Service & Food Workers Union (SFWU) said the company wanted to cut the pay of remaining workers by $70 a week.

The plant at Nelson's port employs 650 at the peak of the hoki season but currently employs 510.

Mr Key said while there were a lot of things that could be done New Zealand could not "push back the tide of the global recession".

"I think in the case of Sealords they're actually restructuring their business...they're actually creating some jobs as well as letting some jobs go.

"One thing we have to be realistic about is the recession will ultimately drive some of those changes, it's not to say we're not hugely sympathetic to those who have lost their job, we understand that there will be change," Mr Key told TV3's Sunrise.

Jobs were lost and created even during times of economic growth, Mr Key said.

"You'll always get quite a lot of movement in the labour market, so the challenge here, I think, is to try and hold on to as many (jobs) as you practically can and make sure you're sending the right signals that jobs are being created."

He said he believed the Government was doing that.

Maori Party MP Rahui Katene earlier said predictions that Maori would bear the brunt of recession were coming true for Sealord workers.

Mrs Katene, MP for Te Tai Tonga, said Sealord had been a significant employer for Maori.

"One of my first holiday jobs was at Sealords and it's the same for many of my whanaunga," she said.

"Our whanau have been employed over decades in the fishing vessels, in the processing facilities and in the offices."

She said Friday's Jobs Summit and the Maori Economic Summit hosted by Dr Pita Sharples had a key theme of the threat of any recession having a disproportionately negative impact on Maori.

"The Sealords decision demonstrates the reality of the significant risks that this recession will bring to whanau, hapu and iwi," Mrs Katene said last night.

"I will certainly be raising this issue with my Maori Party colleagues at tomorrow's caucus meeting.

"This is a huge blow for many of my constituents, and no stone must be left uncovered in the response that is made - quickly - to support the people most at risk. I expect the Government to front up - and I expect the Maori shareholders of Sealords will also be doing all that they can to care for not only the profit margins of a Maori company - but also the wellbeing of its workers."

Nelson-based Labour list MP Maryan Street said the prospects of Sealord workers getting another job were not good.

"I have been talking to the Work and Income office today and there are only 140 jobs available in the whole Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast region currently," she said.