9 Sep 2009

Dairy company issues six-week lockout notice

7:37 am on 9 September 2009

A Waikato dairy company involved in a collective agreement dispute with its workers has issued a six-week lockout notice and is calling for restrictions on when strike action can be taken during the processing season.

Open Country Dairy says the lockout is in response to workers voting to take strike action after they had agreed to enter mediation.

The lockout applies to workers at the company's Waharoa factory near Matamata and will be effective from the end of next week until the end of November.

The company says it will rely on help from shareholders, farmers, un-unionised staff, management and directors to ensure the processing is done.

Dairy Workers Union national secretary James Ritchie says the lockout is an attempt to intimidate workers into submission, after the company refused to negotiate a collective agreement.

He says the union is trying to provide some security of employment to the workforce so hours of work and rosters are not changed at will, workers are not seasonalised and there is some provision for staff in cases of restructuring and redundancy.

Open Country chairman Laurie Margrain says the union is attempting to hold the company to ransom during a time when security of workforce is integral to the industry. He says strike action should not be permitted at this critical time of year for processing a perishable product.

The two sides are due to enter mediation on Wednesday, and both say they're hoping a strike or a lockout can be avoided.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson is refusing to comment on whether restrictions will be placed on workers' ability to strike during the busy processing season.

She says she expects companies and workers to negotiate together under good faith as required under the Employment Relations Act.