Affco and meat runs hit by computer snag

Some meat deliveries didn't get through to Auckland and workers' pay was interrupted as freezing company Affco battled sudden IT issues. Jim Kayes reports

Giant processing company Affco is struggling getting its meat into Auckland because of computer issues, with suggestions from some staff the firm's systems may have been hacked.

Just what the issue is, Affco won’t say. In fact it won’t talk at all, despite repeated requests from Newsroom for information.

Its problems began last week amid talk it had been cyber hacked with a US$5 million ransom threat.

Affco staff have also had their pay affected because of the computer issues.

One worker told Newsroom staff had received a part payment and “the rest will come when their system is up and running again, we are told”.

When asked if Affco’s computer system had been hacked, another worker said “It’s true”, adding a virus was the issue.

“We haven’t been told much about it and we haven’t been able to operate at full speed all week. It’s a bit of a hassle. We have bills to pay.”

The computer issues have disrupted supply into Auckland that for at least three nights in a row last week saw no or very limited Affco meat delivered to the country’s biggest city.

Affco also struggled to take orders for the weekend and some in the trade said there were still issues on Monday.

The supply of cartons of meat (pre-boned and vacuum sealed) and carcasses had been affected.

Affco workers contacted were at pains to say they could not be identified because Affco is such a secretive company.

It has ignored all requests to comment on the suggestions of a cyber attack and ransom demand that surfaced last week and were widespread throughout supermarkets, union representatives and butchers.

It wouldn't be the first offshore cyber attack, as Toll Group’s IT systems were shut down in February following a targeted ransomware attack. Ransomware is software that blocks access to computer systems till the ransom is paid.

Companies attacked in this way are typically quiet about it and the Government’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) was just as secretive.

“Because of the sensitive nature of the reports made to CERT NZ, we never confirm or deny our involvement with any particular incident,” CERT’s manager of operations, Declan Ingram said in a written statement.

“Questions relating to a particular organisation should be referred to them directly.”

CERT would be among an organisation like Affco's first calls for help as it was set up, with a $22.2 million investment in 2016, to track cyber attacks and provide advice on how to respond and prevent further attacks.

Affco is based in Hamilton and the police's district command centre had no knowledge of an incident. A police national headquarters spokesperson also said it did "not appear to have awareness of this matter”.

Affco, the Auckland Farmers Freezing Company, is New Zealand's fourth largest meat processor and has been in business since 1904 and owned by Talley's since 2010.

The company has nine plants and has a rather controversial recent history.

In 2006 it fired multiple workers for a theft ring at its Wairoa plant but a year later the Employment Relations Authority found they were unjustifiably dismissed and awarded them $60,000 in compensation and unpaid wages.

In 2014 Affco was fined $30,000 for firing a worker who refused to work on the Sabbath and in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015 it was fined for a range of unsafe work conditions.

The company was also dogged by strikes in between 2012 and 2016 and one union rep said Affco was the worst meat company to deal with.

Affco' has an annual turnover of $968 million and employs about 3000 people.

While more than 90 percent of New Zealand's meat is exported, Affco does send meat to Foodstuffs supermarkets Pak N Save and New World, and Four Square.

* Made with the support of NZ on Air *

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