South East Wales

2 Sisters Food Group Merthyr plant job risk 'a major blow'

St Merryn foods in Merthyr
Image caption St Merryn Foods has been in Merthyr since 1999 and employs 1,100 staff

Plans to cut 350 jobs at a meat processing plant in Merthyr Tydfil would be "a major blow to Wales", it has been claimed.

The 2 Sisters Food Group is proposing to move the retail packing department from its St Merryn operation in south Wales to its site in Cornwall.

The Farmers' Union of Wales said it could affect the local economy and agricultural supply chain.

The Welsh Government and the local MP are in talks with the company.

St Merryn Foods, which was taken over by 2 Sisters Food Group in 2013, packs steaks and chops at the Merthyr site it has run since 1999.

The company currently employs 1,100 staff at the site on Penygarnddu Industrial Estate and confirmed the job losses on Tuesday.

'Extreme uncertainty'

Brian Bowen, the FUW's finance and organisation committee south Wales representative, said: "The plant employs around 1,000 people, so we are talking about the potential loss of around a third of the workforce.

"This would be a major blow for the local economy and for Wales' agricultural supply chain as a whole."

Mr Bowen, who farms at Pencoedcae farm, Princetown, near the St Merryn site, said it came at a time when there was "already extreme uncertainty about the future" due to the vote to leave the European Union.

"The agricultural supply chain employs scores of thousands of people in Wales' rural and urban areas, and these proposals will come as a major blow to the families affected and the community as a whole," he added.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBen Landers, an agency worker at the plant, said job prospects in the area were otherwise poor

One employee, Ben Landers, who has worked in the packing department for four months, said the announcement was "a shock" to staff.

"We are very worried because there's nothing else around here for us," he said, adding the job market was "very poor" in the area.

The Welsh Government and Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney MP Gerald Jones are to work with company directors during the 45-day consultation period.

Dawn Bowden, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney AM, put forward an urgent question asking the Welsh Government what its response is during Wednesday afternoon's plenary session.

In response, Economy Secretary Ken Skates said the Welsh Government would be working with the company's directors and management to "minimise the impact" on the plant and its employees.

"Further discussions will be held with directors of the wider group in order to identify opportunities which may mitigate the worst effects, should the consultation period conclude with job losses," he added.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionEconomy Secretary Ken Skates said the Welsh Government was working with the company

South Wales East AM Mohammad Asghar said the plans would be "deeply distressing" for the wider community and called on the Welsh Government to "come forward with a clear plan to support the workers whose jobs are threatened".

In a statement on Tuesday, the company said the move was part of a "wider strategic review" and could happen as early as January.

"We do not take the decision to launch this review lightly, but it is the only way our business can survive and prosper for the longer term," the statement said.

"Regrettably, the red meat sector in the UK faces many serious challenges including declining markets, falling volumes, higher input costs and a fiercely competitive retail landscape.

"This extremely difficult environment means the packing operation at Merthyr, which includes the packing of steaks and chops, is no longer sustainable."

More on this story