Short season for meatworkers

The shortage of stock which is one of the reasons farmers are getting better returns for sheep and beef this season will mean much less work for meatworkers.

The pay cheques of the country’s 22,000 meat workers will be thousands of dollars lighter this year with their seasonal jobs likely to be cut short by up to seven weeks because of falling sheep numbers.

Meatworkers used to be big earners and their unions was one of the most militant. In the 60s, 70s and early 80s they used to down tools they had no compunction about striking regardless of how desperate the need for farmers to quit stock.

The ag-sag of the late 80s and improvements to labour laws changed that. Sheep numbers plummeted and it became both more difficult to strike on a whim. With subsidies gone there was no fat in the system for unrealistic demands on wages and conditions.

Meatworkers can still earn good money while they’re working. But automation has replaced some workers and seasons are shorter than they used to be for those who still have jobs. 

This will impact not just on them but their communities. Retailers in Oamaru always say they notice an upturn when freezing workers start work and a slow down when they stop.

Continued conversion to dairying will provide some with off-season work but it will also lead to less stock to kill and shorter seasons in future.

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