Moy Park union calls for job assurances after firm bought £1bn deal to Brazilian firm
Union bosses are seeking an "urgent meeting" with Moy Park after Northern Ireland's biggest employer was sold for $1.5bn (£945m) to Brazilian firm JBS S.A.
The UK's biggest poultry processor, which has its headquarters in Craigavon, was owned by another Brazil-based company - Marfrig Group - since 2008.
The purchase came as a shock as rumours had been rife over the last 12 months that Marfrig would float Moy Park on the London Stock Exchange.
JBS said it expected to complete the purchase in the second half of 2015.
Moy Park, headed by chief executive Janet McCollum, employs 8,473 people in Northern Ireland and last year its pre-tax profits rose by 39% to £33.7m. The poultry giant said there would be no immediate changes, but would not be making any further comment.
Unite's regional officer Sean McKeever said the union, which represents more than 3,000 workers at Moy Park, is seeking an urgent meeting with JBS.
"Unite will be seeking assurances as to the future job security for Moy Park's employees. We will also be demanding a loyalty bonus payment for workers during the transfer process," Mr McKeever said.
"It's essential that the transfer results in benefits for the workers, whose labour has built this billion pound business, and needs to reflect the fact that its operations in Northern Ireland are among its most profitable in Europe.
"Unite recently suspended a strike action after management reversed their previous refusal to engage in meaningful pay talks; negotiations are now ongoing and we hope that this transfer will not prevent these from addressing our concerns in relation to low-pay and long working hours."
Commenting on the announcement, Moy Park CEO Janet McCollum said:
“Moy Park is a strong, growing and profitable company and has benefited greatly from being part of Marfrig Global Foods. We are very pleased and encouraged by this development which is great recognition for Moy Park.
“JBS is the second largest global food business and the largest poultry company in the world with a significant poultry presence outside of Europe. The Moy Park team, together with our dedicated farming partners, will continue to meet and exceed the needs of our customers and consumers throughout the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe providing innovative, top quality products underpinned by the highest standards of animal welfare.”
The purchase of Moy Park is the JBS's first move into the European market. In a statement, investor relations officer Jeremiah O'Callaghan said: "This transaction represents an important step in JBS' strategy to grow its portfolio of prepared and convenient products with high value added.
"In addition, this acquisition increases the company's geographic diversification, with an expansion of its operations in Europe in a relevant manner."
Marfrig said it sold Moy Park to reduce its debts.
"The use of the proceeds from this transaction is to reduce leverage," it said.
Economist John Simpson said that with Moy Park being bought for such a large sum, there will be pressure on the poultry processor to prove profitable enough for its new owner.
"The price they are paying seems quite a handsome price. The people taking them up will be pressured to keep up their profits. This is a new owner who will want to squeeze them for a profit in a tight market," he said.