Nestlé has reached a provisional agreement to sell its local sugar and confectionary business, which will result in job losses at its Wiri plant in Auckland.

Brands affected include Mackintosh’s, Heards, Black Knight, and Fabulicious red liquorice. Nestlé has proposed selling Life Savers and Oddfellows to Australian private equity firm Quadrant, which already owns Kiwi confectionery firm RJ’s and Australian sweet company Darrell Lea. Manufacturing will move from Wiri to RJ’s factory in Levin.

Nestlé says RJ’s had indicated it intended to offer affected Nestlé staff the opportunity to take up roles at the Levin factor and adds it regrets that the proposal would lead to job losses. The restructure from the sale also includes moving production of Nestlé’s Scorched Almonds to Melbourne and production of the Lollipops brand to China.

The union, E tū says it has about 200 members at the plant, where up to 55 workers could lose their jobs. Phil Knight, E tū industry coordinator for manufacturing and food, says, “We were aware of the sell-off of product lines and cuts to staff overseas, so we asked the company specifically if there were any such plans for New Zealand. We were assured there were none, so this has come as a bolt from the blue.

“The company has issued a letter with its reasons for this restructure and sell-off and announcing a consultation process. The union is making every case for a decent timeframe for this, given the probability of job losses.”

Workers may receive job offers at Quadrant’s Levin-based factory or in Melbourne. Knight says, “We have yet to learn the detail of the sale proposal let alone any alternative work offers. In the meantime, he says the union is supporting its members “who are going through the usual range of emotions that you’d expect from an announcement like this.

“While the union-negotiated collective agreement has very generous redundancy provisions, it is not the same as a job, and we are worried about this coming on top of other job losses in the food manufacturing industry in New Zealand.”

This decision comes soon after the Cadbury closure and follows announcements of future job losses at Griffins and Kraft Heinz Watties. Knight adds, “This is yet another example of a global corporate making decisions which adversely affect local workers. I think it’s time for New Zealanders to think carefully about what products and businesses they support, and where the profits made go to. Where they have a choice and the products are competitively priced and of a good standard, we would urge them to consider buying New Zealand-made products only.”

Well-known Kiwi brands affected by the sale include Mackintosh’s, Heards, Black Knight liquorice, Life Savers and Oddfellows.

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