18 Nov 2015

Meat company AFFCO unlawfully locked out workers - court

5:15 pm on 18 November 2015

Meatworkers have welcomed a scathing report from the Employment Court on the breakdown in talks between AFFCO and its workers throughout the country, saying the company acted in bad faith and undermined the union.

Affco workers made the journey from Wairoa to Auckland for the hearing.

Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Since a collective agreement with the meat company expired almost two years ago, the company has locked out staff who would not return on individual contracts, and 150 meatworkers in Wairoa have been out of work as a result.

The Employment Court today ruled AFFCO locked out workers unlawfully and without the required notice.

It also found the company undermined the collective bargaining process by sidelining the Meatworkers Union altogether, and negotiated with individual workers without the union's knowledge.

The court wants to see the dispute go to private mediation.

But AFFCO chief financial officer Nigel Stevens said the company was reviewing the court's ruling.

"The judgment is long and complex and we are currently studying the full details of the decision."

The company had until 25 November to respond to the court order for private mediation, he said.

"We note the judgment makes no specific directions other than directing the parties to file details of earlier court-ordered mediation with the court, along with their proposals for further mediation."

Once AFFCO had had an opportunity to fully review the judgement, it would be able to comment further, he said.

The Meatworkers Union said there were tears of joy when workers found out they had won the long-standing dispute with AFFCO.

Union organiser and former Labour MP Darien Fenton said they had been struggling to feed their families, and those who had gone back were working under oppressive conditions.

Ms Fenton said she hoped the court's decision set a precedent for how workers were treated in the future.

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff told Checkpoint yesterday the workers had been through tough times.

"All in all, we're delighted for those workers. They've been doing it really tough," he said.

"Talley's AFFCO hasn't been treating them fairly and it's good to see the court ruling in their favour."

The company needed to learn from its mistakes, he said.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs