An Employment Court hearing has started in Auckland where a union is arguing Affco meat workers have been illegally locked out from work.
The case is part of a long running battle between union members and Affco over the use of individual contracts.
A collective agreement with the meat company expired in December 2013, and before the hearing the company said it could not employ people who did not have a contract.
Opening the case, a lawyer for the Meat Workers Union, Peter Cranney, said there are two closely related issues in the case; whether it was unlawful for Affco to bargain with union members individually and whether lockouts at Affco were unlawful.
Mr Cranney told the judges that a lockout was a very powerful economic weapon that could be linked to poverty and deprivation.
Several meat workers travelled from Wairoa for the hearing.