Fairton meatworkers gift $78,000

Former Fairton employees Jim Gordon (left) and Darcy Lysaght with the original minute book of the sickness and benefit society.

Thousands of Fairton freezing workers who were part of a special sickness insurance scheme over the past 65 years have left a $78,000 legacy for the Ashburton district.

The CFM sickness and benefit society started in 1954 and workers paid a premium each year to belong; they were able to access funds for themselves or their families if they had medical bills, or needed glasses or dentistry work.

The society was wound up in 2017 when the Fairton plant was closed and this week trustees Jim Gordon and Darcy Lysaght presented the funds to Advance Ashburton. The charitable foundation will invest the money and pay out interest every year to five groups that do great work in our district: Ashburton Cancer Support Group, Heart Foundation, Diabetes, St John and the Canterbury-West Coast rescue helicopter.

Minutes detailing the inaugural meeting in 1954, attended by 100 workers, are contained in an old society administration book that has survived the Fairton plant’s demise.

The meat plant had been operational for well over 100 years when Silver Fern Farms decided to mothball it. Meatworkers lost their jobs, tannery equipment was moved south to Timaru and the plant was decommissioned.

New owners Talley’s take over the property today.

The two trustees sat down on Tuesday with Advance Ashburton’s Sandi Wood, whose father also worked at Fairton, to sign the CFM Co Sickness and Accident Fund trust deed.

Jim worked in administration roles with the company for 47 years. Darcy worked at Fairton for 45 years and was a slaughterman; he was also union secretary for the last 15.

The society held its final meeting on August 6 this year, and decided to donate its surplus funds to the foundation.

Darcy said those who had worked at the Fairton meat works over the years belonged to a special family, one that looked after each other and worked for a common cause. It set the scene for many great friendships and the occasional disagreement.

The sickness and benefit society was an early form of ACC, Darcy said, and there were strict rules and a cap about how much people could claim. Some made none.

Over the years, the fund grew; an astute share investment boosted the coffers too.

Jim said it had never been the fund’s intention to make money. It had been designed to help Fairton workers and their families but now it would be helping the wider community. The plant was owned by several companies over the years, most recently Silver Fern Farms and before that Canterbury Frozen Meat.

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