Oamaru Meats has temporarily closed down.
Earlier this month the company stopped almost all processing after access for its beef to China was suspended.
On Tuesday, director Richard Thorp said “around 140” staff at the plant were stood down while managers worked with New Zealand and Chinese authorities to regain the lost access.
“We’re forever optimistic,” Mr Thorp said.
Company representatives were in talks with Ministry for Primary Industries personnel.
“We’re hoping it’s going to be as quick as possible.”
Mr Thorp could not speculate on the duration of the shutdown.
He said livestock that was scheduled to be processed by Oamaru Meats was being rerouted to other abattoirs by a combination of the company’s actions and those of farmers who supplied it with livestock.
New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union Otago Southland branch secretary Gary Davis said the union’s hands were tied until Oamaru Meats sorted out its issues with the Chinese government.
He understood the breach of access regulations was “pretty minor”.
“We’re hopeful [staff] can get back to work as soon as possible.
“For most of them, it’s about finding alternative work because there’s no time frame [for the closure].
“Once their holiday pay has run out, there’s a stand down of a couple of weeks, then they can get the unemployment benefit.”
There would be jobs available at the Alliance Group’s Pukeuri and Smithfield plants this season, Mr Davis said.
Across all its plants, Alliance had put in applications to the Government to hire “hundreds” of overseas workers, including for both Pukeuri and Smithfield, so there was demand for more staff, he said.
“I’m sure most will be absorbed back into the meat industry.”
Some may have to travel to jobs in the short-term.
“My biggest concern, and it has been for the last two years, is that too many local people are being denied opportunities to work in the meat industry because of their age or an old injury,” Mr Davis said.
“There has certainly been an age bias and [employers] don’t want to risk people who have had injuries.”
North Otago Federated Farmers president Simon Williamson said news of the Oamaru Meats closure was “certainly a worry from the farmers’ point of view”.
Competition in the marketplace was important in securing good prices for livestock, and Oamaru Meats had enjoyed good support from the Mackenzie Basin and Central Otago as well as North Otago, Mr Williamson said.
Oamaru Meats had done a lot of work to get itself into position and it “defies logic” that the Chinese-owned company had run into trouble with access to China.
Formerly known as Lean Meats, it is part of China’s BX Foods group owned by Heilongjiang Binxi Cattle Industry Co Ltd.