HUNDREDS of workers at Malton Bacon Factory are to lose their jobs or see them change, under a cost-cutting shake-up by the plant’s parent company.

The net impact in Malton will be 200 job losses. The total number of redundancies, including agency staff, will be higher but about 140 new jobs will be created. The plant currently employs 1,000 and is the town’s biggest employer.

A trade union representative yesterday said workers had been left “shell-shocked” by the news, which was announced in a series of staff meetings. A 90-day consultation with staff begins on Friday.

Owners Vion Food Group plans to close its cooked meat operations at Malton, and transfer them to Haverhill in Suffolk, while all abattoir operations in Suffolk will be transferred to North Yorkshire in return. Vion said the move would create two “centres of excellence”.

Alasdair Cox, director of corporate affairs at the Dutch-owned firm, said the changes were regrettable, but added: “Due to increasingly competitive pressures from the market-place, we must continually look to optimise our production facilities, to ensure sound foundations for the development of the UK business.”

He added: “The commitment from the teams at Haverhill and Malton has never been in question.

“This restructure is not a result of the credit crunch – it is in response to a review of operations conducted by Vion in August 2008, but we feel that it makes sound business sense, and will put us on a stronger footing for the future.”

Keith Russell, area organiser for the trade union Usdaw, said most workers affected were local women.

He is meeting company management on Friday to discuss the plans, but said the blame lay with the previous owners, Grampian Food Group, rather than Vion, for failing to invest in new machinery.

Mr Russell said: “Clearly we will be actively seeking the cessation of any temps and agencies, seeking volunteers from other sections to create vacancies, and giving priority [when filling new posts] to any body who is affected.

“We are also anxious that the company agrees to a training period, because we are talking about people going from machinery, handling and packaging to semi-skilled work.”

He said staff were “genuinely shell-shocked” when the news was announced.

Robert Magee, who works in curing, said: “I don’t know if I’m affected. I don’t think I will be, but it was still a shock when I heard the news. Everybody is sick of this, and some are ready to go. Others are worried for their families, and how they are going to manage.”

Theresa Lindsay, assistant business director at Yorkshire Forward, said the factory was vital to the local economy and said the organisation would work with Vion to safeguard its future.

Under the plans, Haverhill will focus on the production and processing of cooked meats, while Malton will focus on producing fresh pork and bacon.

Malton councillor Paul Andrews said he was “horrified” to hear of the redundancies and called the news a “tragedy”.

He said: “It will be a devastating blow for those who have lost their jobs, and for their families.”

He said the news showed how important it was to support local independent traders, which could not move jobs around the country as easily as big companies.

His fellow Malton councillor Tony Hemesley said Malton often lost out economically due its infrastructure.

He said: “There should be a central road from Huttons Ambo to Bramblefield, behind the factories, which would improve communications and transport.”