25 Sep 2009

Lockout of dairy workers illegal, judge rules

9:09 pm on 25 September 2009

Workers locked out from their jobs at a Waikato cheese factory have won a ruling allowing them back to work.

Thirty-eight workers involved in an acrimonious dispute with Open Country Cheese had been locked out of its Waharoa factory near Matamata since Thursday night and faced six more weeks off the job.

Employment Court judge Barry Travis ruled on Friday that the lockout is not lawful and the workers can return to the production line.

The workers are seeking a collective agreement, but the company has rejected this.

Judge Travis ruled a lockout could only occur if a collective agreement was actually on the table. He issued an injunction allowing the employees to go back to work immediately.

The judge has yet to rule on another claim by the Dairy Workers Union that workers brought in to replace striking staff are illegal.

However, Judge Travis has indicated that he is likely to agree with the company that the workers are lawful because they are not employed directly by Open Country Cheese but by its parent company Open Country Dairy Ltd.

The Council of Combined Trade Unions says the ruling means the staff can return to work and continue bargaining for a genuine collective agreement.