They arrived grim-faced, fearing the worst but hoping for the best; one hour later more than 300 meat industry employees walked out of Ashburton's Sinclair Centre knowing they were out of a job.

That Silver Fern's Fairton plant was closing came as no surprise to most and when the announcement was made there was barely a ripple in the backed hall. The words "Silver Fern Farms is planning to close its Fairton sheep meat process plant" simply confirmed what most had suspected for several years.

"At least now we know," many said.

Employees left the hall singly, in pairs and then in a flood clutching papers marked confidential.


The walked into a media scrum and while some simply bowed their heads and walked away, most were happy to talk about what for many will now be a jobless future.

Some, realising their future as meat workers was under threat, had other jobs in the pipeline, others simply shrugged their shoulders and said - " I guess I'll have to start looking for a job ..."

Some shook their heads in disbelief but most were resigned or relieved. They might not have liked the outcome but many said they now had certainty - even if it was being unemployed.

"It's been a long time coming, we're all gone," one man said.

"We're done and dusted."

The company has called a second meeting in two weeks saying that period allowed employees to come up with options and ideas. Staff weren't buying that. Their jobs were gone, and apart from a handful of staff working the pelt house, those jobs wouldn't be coming back.

And for some of the company's long serving employees, there was also something to celebrate about the decision to close the plant.

"A lot of people only stayed there because of the redundancy; for the last five years this has been in the wind," one said.

The mood in the meeting was surprisingly calm, another said. People listened and showed little reaction to the closure news.

"Everyone knew the meeting was about closing the plant but there were some pretty sad faces in there."

A question was asked by an employee about providing finance for staff to retrain. The answer wasn't yes, but it certainly wasn't a no. He believes they'll consider this option.

While Silver Fern has suggested more than 230 jobs could be available at its Belfast, Pareora or Hokitika plants, most had just one reaction - " we don't want to travel; we'll be looking at jobs around Ashburton."

And among the younger staff, there were plenty of hugs of support and a feeling of solidarity. There were no tears.

- The Ashburton Guardian