Talley's-owned company fined after union organiser manhandled

South Pacific Meats wouldn't let the Meat Workers Union do its job.
South Pacific Meats wouldn't let the Meat Workers Union do its job. Photo credit: Newshub.

A meat company owned by Talley's has been fined after a union organiser was manhandled and prevented from doing his job.

Wayne Ruscoe was visiting a South Pacific Meats processing plant near Burnham in May when he was denied access to a smoko room and told to leave. He had been handing out information and membership forms for the Meat Workers Union, on a pre-arranged visit.

The company said Mr Ruscoe was filming illegally, which the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) rejected - saying he only began recording when South Pacific Meats' personnel and health and safety officer James McFarlane denied him entry to the smoko room - standing with his back to the door, preventing it from opening.

Mr Ruscoe tried pushing his way into the smoko room, but was pulled aside by a "burly" employee and pushed up against a wall.

The company later issued a trespass order against him, which the ERA has ruled invalid, saying it doesn't override the law, which allows the union access to workplaces.

The ERA fined South Pacific Meats $28,000 for two breaches of the Act - one for denying Mr Ruscoe access to the workplace, and the second for trying to trespass him from coming back.

"No employer is above the law and unions have a statutory right to visit work sites," says Graham Cooke of the Meat Workers Union.

"We will keep doing our job of working for worker's rights at SPM and in the wider Talley's group. Workers know that we are on their side."

The ruling noted South Pacific Meats has been "penalised a number of times previously for breaching union access rights".

South Pacific Meats is also pursuing the Meat Workers Union, saying the material it was distributing was "false, misleading and derogatory". That case is yet to be heard.

The Meat Workers Union says the latest fines are "the heaviest individual penalties ever... for this kind of case".

Last year Talley's was fined $35,000 after a worker was fired for handing out union material.