Managers at Cargill Foods in Wagga Wagga have held crisis talks with meat union officials to try to defuse a worker dispute that risks seeing 400 abattoir workers locked out next week.

The lock-out is expected to last three months, starting tomorrow [Thursday]. The plant is 50 years old and breakdowns have led to a growing number of stoppages. Owner Cargill Foods is not prepared to push for the upgrade the abattoir needs, which would cost A$30m (US$15.8m), unless workers accept a new enterprise agreement.

Abattoir workers have already turned down two offers, but meat industry union spokesman Steve Gurney said yesterday's discussions were positive. Cargill is looking at new costings and the union is examining further areas for discussion.