Major Angus job fears have emerged over a decision to bring a three-day week into place at a Brechin abattoir.
It follows the continuing suspension of a Chinese export licence after a Covid-19 outbreak shut the Quality Pork Limited plant in Brechin earlier this year.
The move has been described as a “pivotal moment” for the future of Scotland’s pig farming industry.
Plant bosses say the step is being taken in an attempt to stave off redundancies among the workforce.
Community leaders are concerned uncertainty over the long-term future of the slaughterhouse will dent the town’s pandemic recovery.
From Monday, the Montrose Road operation will run three days a week, with workers placed on furlough the remaining two.
The £10 million operation opened in 2018 with a workforce of around 60.
A QPL spokesperson said: “While we do not take this action lightly, the move to a three-day week is absolutely necessary in order to prevent redundancies and protect jobs.
“The Brechin site is at the heart of a cooperative venture between farmers, QPL and the processor, which is vital to the future of the pig industry in Scotland.
“Without further support, the future of the site is in jeopardy, threatening the ability of farmers to supply Scottish pork to Scottish retailers and consumers.
“This is a pivotal moment for the Scottish pig sector and we are working closely with farmers to manage the impact of the challenges they face, as well as engaging with all relevant governments and departments to have the licence reinstated without delay.”
A two-week shutdown came into place in late January following a Covid-19 outbreak at the plant.
Under guidance from DEFRA, QPL suspended the site’s export licence.
The decision was welcomed at the time by the Scottish government in recognition of the need to put the health and wellbeing of staff and the local community first.
QPL submitted its application for reinstatement of the licence in mid-March 2021, following a clean bill of health from the local public health authorities, Food Standards Scotland and DEFRA.
However, the licence has yet to be approved.
It has left the business with no option but to reduce operational hours.
Brechin Community Council chairwoman Jill Scott said: “After the shutdown situation earlier in the year, this is another setback Brechin could really do without.
“It is clearly a serious situation facing the industry, and Brechin plays a key part in that sector.
“This step will be a real worry for employees and their families, and it is bound to raise questions about what the future holds for the plant.
“QPP is an important employer and any impact there will reverberate through the wider Brechin community,” she said.
Angus councillor Gavin Nicol, who represents Brechin and Edzell added: “Beyond the worries for the employees and their families this will have a big effect on the farming industry.
“Production of livestock for slaughter is over months, there will be a surplus and that could affect prices for pig breeders who are already struggling badly.
“We can only hope this step is being taken in time to safeguard jobs there as much as possible and help the plant look to a positive future,” he said.
The Scottish Government introduced a £715,000 hardship fund to help impacted farmers.
However, the support fund expired at the end of March.
Scottish pig farmers say they have been caught in the ‘perfect storm’ of low animal prices and spiralling feed costs, putting the future of many in jeopardy.
QPL has written to the Scottish Government to call for an urgent extension to the support for farmers in order to ensure that the entire project does not collapse.
It is owned by its farmer producers and operates the Brechin facility through its subsidiary company, Quality Pork Processors (QPP).