By Fiona Rotherham
An Employment Court hearing has begun in Auckland over stalled negotiations between Talley's-owned meat processor Affco and the Meat Workers Union on a return to work by 200 Wairoa freezing workers who have been out of work for the past 135 days.
The Court unanimously decided in November that Affco's lockout of freezing workers at plants across the North Island who had refused to sign individual contracts earlier in the year was illegal.
It also said that Affco had breached section 32 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 by not acting in good faith while collective bargaining was continuing.
Workers at other plants eventually returned to work under the new contracts but a number of Wairoa workers refused to sign.
Both parties were ordered to return to mediation on the Wairoa return to work and any remedies were postponed until after that occurred. However further mediation talks have failed to resolve the long-running stoush.
An urgent hearing before Christmas where the union sought an injunction failed, but the judge ruled the union had an arguable case and the hearing, set down for three days, was brought forward to today.
Under dispute are the terms and conditions on which they return to work. The union told the court that Affco, the country's fourth-largest meat processor, continues to insist the locked-out workers should restart work on the nightshift, which the union contends is unreasonable and discriminatory.
Affco's lawyer, Paul Wicks QC, said the company's decision could have rested on a number of things, including climate, economic factors, and the inability of competitors to buy stock at this time.
A second court case set down for November claiming the company walked away from negotiations on the collective contract that expired in 2013 was postponed until after the mediation talks on the lockout issue.