Tensions are running high at the news of 33 job losses at a boutique Napier meatworks.
Fresh Meats NZ confirmed to Hawke's Bay Today they had completed a "business reset aimed at better aligning its value chain to meet customer needs and creating a sustainable future for the company and its people".
The reset, which was first announced in June 2019, comes into effect today following an "extensive and comprehensive consultation process with staff", Integrated Foods general manager Blair Cooper said.
A total of 60 staff have been retained, with 16 staff electing voluntary redundancy and 17 staff unsuccessful following a selection process.
The plant, situated in Pandora, Napier, was formerly the Napier abattoir which processed mutton, lamb, goats and pigs.
It is now owned by Gisborne-based parent company Integrated Foods and exclusively processes lamb.
Jeff Cundall "invested" 17-and-a-half years as an "add value" worker for the company.
He took voluntary redundancy a week ago, but says he was "forced to" and has been left with an "empty feeling".
"I've invested a large part of my life in that place. It's a kick in the guts - that's exactly what it feels like."
Cundall starts a new job today, although, he says it is at a significantly lower pay rate.
"I had to reapply for my own job at a lesser pay rate or take redundancy and go. I was sort of bullied into it a bit. I couldn't trust the people I worked for so I couldn't stay anyway."
As union president, he says it was "stressful".
"It caused me a lot of grief.
"It is a very unfortunate and unsavoury situation that has cost a lot of people a lot of heartache."
Cundall says it is not as bad for him, as he is a "bit later in life - but that's not the point".
He says many have mortgages to pay and families to provide for. Now with no job, that has been made harder.
Even though he no longer works for the company, he said he was "frightened of saying too much".
In May 2019 the company announced it was going to downsize the plant and would be making 35 people redundant.
Meatworkers Union organiser Eric Mischefski said it was "good" they had been able to bring the number of compulsory redundancies down.
The CEA has redundancy compensation provisions.
At the end of August, the company is also going to backpay workers arrears of wages relevant to unpaid rest breaks over the previous six years.
However, Cundall says the way he sees it, that money was already owed to them.
"They seem to think that lessens the blow because they're getting a payout. That's not the point, it's money they should have been paid in the first place."
Mischefski said he was working for those who had been made redundant and those who had kept their jobs.
"It's still very much in an experimental stage to the extent that it's going to be a trial for some time to try and make the new reset business operate the way the company is intending it to.
"We're committed to trying to do our best to make the new enterprise work as best as it's able."
Mischefski said that, to some extent, "the rest of the industry is looking at how this operation will progress".
Cooper thanked staff for their goodwill and patience during the challenging change process.
He said that, aside from redundancy payments, the company was offering outplacement support and other services to assist affected staff who were now transitioning to new employment.
Cooper was confident that an appropriate change process had been conducted which had ensured all staff were given an equal opportunity to express their interest in the newly established positions.
Fresh Meats NZ was also in discussion with local meat and food processing companies to identify potential opportunities for placement.
He said the reset and change process had been communicated in full to the NZ Meat Workers and Related Trades Union throughout, which has acknowledged the company's need to make change.
"The business reset has been overlaid with a collective agreement bargaining process that had also been under way during this time, and we appreciate the union's agreement to take a pause while the reset process was completed," he said.
Bargaining was scheduled to recommence by late August.
No further job losses are planned, and Fresh Meats is now "focused on successfully implementing its new approach to a sustainable future", he said.
The other workers who lost their jobs did not want to speak publicly, due to "fear".