Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Welsh Country Foods' plant could cut over 200 jobs

Workers gave their reaction to the news of job losses

More than 200 jobs are set to go at a meat processing plant on Anglesey.

Welsh Country Foods, which employs 444 staff at Gaerwen, said the decision to restructure was taken after a drop in demand for lamb.

The firm says a 90-day consultation period has now started with the workforce.

Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones, and local AM and Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones called it disappointing and a meeting with workers is planned.

"The impact is extremely serious, bearing in mind that this is the third announcement of either closures or significant job losses in the last 12 months or so," said Mr Jones.

The workforce worked hard to keep production levels up and helped the company to limit the impact of the credit crunch... now is the time for Vion to repay that loyalty
Albert Owen, Anglesey MP

He called the food sector was "very, very important" for the island, and will meet the company later in the week to see whether it was possible to "overcome the difficulties they find themselves in".

Mr Jones said the company had told him it was being "squeezed in terms of the margins for their products".

While current higher lamb prices were good news for farmers, the company had told him it was not so good for them, he added.

Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones said: "Our absolute priority now is to help the people involved to find alternative jobs - or to acquire the new skills needed for alternative careers," she said.

'Loyal workforce'

Anglesey MP Albert Owen called for the company to suspend its plans to reduce the workforce.

He said last year was a "very difficult year for the business sector".

"On Anglesey the Vion workforce accepted a pay freeze and a reduction in hours to support the company," he said.

"The workforce worked hard to keep production levels up and helped the company to limit the impact of the credit crunch. Now is the time for Vion to repay that loyalty," he added.

Mr Owen said the company should work together with the local workforce to overcome problems, and he said he was willing to meet with management, unions and representatives of the workforce.

'Major blow'

Anglesey council described it as a blow for the workers and the farming community on the island.

NFU Cymru vice-president Ed Bailey said the announcement was a "major blow" to the economy of Anglesey and north west Wales.

Anglesey Aluminium - 400
Eaton Electric, Holyhead - 250
Eastman Chemical Company (Peboc) - 100
Vion - Llangefni plant went down to one shift - 140
Menai Electrical, Gaerwen - 50

"It comes on the back of significant job losses on the island in 2009, and we are particularly concerned at the knock on impact these redundancies will have on many rural families who have family members employed at Welsh Country Foods," he said.

Welsh Country Foods is part of the Vion Food Group Ltd, which produces and processes beef, lamb, pork bacon and chicken, as well as products such as sausages and cooked meats.

Mr Bailey said the union had written to Welsh Country Foods in September 2009 to make Vion fully aware of the importance livestock farmers place on having the abattoir and processing plant on Anglesey.

"The union has had assurances from the company that today's announcement will not impact on the farmers who supply them and that the plant will continue with its slaughtering operation at Gaerwen," he said.

Jose Peralta, managing director of the Vion red meat businesses unit, said the company was operating within an "increasingly competitive, and demanding marketplace".

Retail packing

"We regret the need for these proposed changes announced today, and have informed our employees and their union representatives of our commitment to consult with them," he said.

Part of the consultation will be exploring ways to avoid redundancies, including transfers to other businesses within the wider company, he added.

The retail packing operations from Gaerwen will be transferred to another company site at Winsford, Cheshire.

Vion also owns a chicken processing plant at Llangefni.

The sale of chicken is coping well in the recession and the restructuring does not affect the Llangefni plant.

Vion said it was looking into the possibility that some of the workers at Gaerwen could be moved to Llangefni, but this is only a possibility at this stage.

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