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Court rules that Meat Workers donning & doffing is work and must be paid minimum wage

Written By: - Date published: 4:07 pm, December 18th, 2018 - 29 comments
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In a landmark Employment Court decision yesterday, the requirement for meat workers to “don and doff” specialist hygiene and other equipment before and after their shifts, and before and after their rest breaks, including their unpaid meal breaks and in their own time has been deemed to be “work” and payable at the minimum wage.

Most people won’t have heard of donning and doffing but for meat workers, it’s something they understand only too well as more and more of their day is spent on ensuring their company has all the protections in place to meet stringent Food Safety and Meat Export regulations.

Donning and doffing has been a growing concern of NZ meat workers in the industry for years and this court action follows other cases where “work” has been more broadly defined, such as Idea Services and Smiths City.

As the requirements around hygiene, food safety, export standards and other regulations have increased, so has the responsibility of meat workers to meet these requirements in their own time before and after work, and before and after paid and unpaid breaks and this concern has become stronger.

The process of “donning and doffing” in the freezing works is clearly outlined in the Court Judgement. Anecdotal research by the Meat Workers Union has shown that many meat workers have an increasing encroachment on their own time.

Add to this the insistence from companies like AFFCO of imposing fewer breaks because their mates in the National Party changed the law

So what’s next?

This case sets a precedent. It remains to be seen whether the Meat Industry will step up and acknowledge the unpaid work they have been increasingly requiring of their workers and find a way through this, by sitting down with the Meat Workers Union.

But what’s clear is the Courts are increasingly of the view that the amount of unpaid work by a range of workers, whether they be in social services, retail, and now manufacturing has to come to an end.

29 comments on “Court rules that Meat Workers donning & doffing is work and must be paid minimum wage ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    Any action that takes time away from a person to benefit a business must be seen as working for that business and thus must be paid.

    I’m amazed that this even had to go to court. It shouldn’t have had to.

    But, then, capitalists are all about getting everything for nothing.

    • Bewildered 1.1

      I am sure the meat works in Cuba, Venezuela North Korea and China pay handsomely, with outstanding conditions and have the highest hygiene and QA standards

      • mac1 1.1.1

        Bewildered,so? What’s your point?

        I work as the white bearded gentleman who brings joy and happiness to children young and old. I could make the point that this news just before Christmas of the award of wages for doffing and donning is a good present for those workers and fair.

        But the point that I want to make is that I am paid for half an hour each Santa session for getting the costume and make-up off and on. I didn’t have to go to court for that. A decent employer recognised that the requirement to wear special clothing and prepare hygienically for work deserved payment for the time spent.

        • Bewildered

          For the slightly dim I am referring to draco last point above 😀

          No problem with donning and doffing payment, part of job, of course you should be paid

          • Draco T Bastard

            Actually, you’re not referring to me at all.

            You’re simply trying to divert from the truth that I stated. That capitalists, given an opportunity, will steal from the workers.

          • mac1

            Thanks for the explanation, Bewildered. In defence of the ‘slightly dim’, the light bulb of your intellectual illumination has now shone clearly and rendered “all calm and bright”.

      • Grey Area 1.1.2

        And your point is? Oh that’s right, you don’t have one.

      • greywarshark 1.1.3

        What do you know about these countries’ standards? Give us a link. How low, how hard do the conditions have to be before you stop being Bewildered. Or are you very old and likely to advance further along that path so you won’t have the burden of thinking about others’ welfare; and can punch and pinch as the impulse strikes you. I was just remembering that Mary had the baby Jesus in a shed along with the animals. Could it be that things now are ripe for a new Messiah to be born and bring light to our amorality?

        And thanks mac1 for taking a leading part in our special yearly celebration. The kids always have had their photos taken. Thanks for putting up with the hoo-hah. I can still remember things my parents did when I was five and its enjoyable in turn to think about our children for a while.

        • mac1

          Thanks, greywarshark. It’s a very special role. I worked as a cleaner in a tyre factory in my Varsity days and I got paid ‘gumboot money’ for having to wear gumboots and got paid an hourly allowance also for exposure to carbon black which permeated the skin and got into the dress collar and cuffs. Milk was provided at a discount to counteract the carbon black, and overtime was paid at time and a half for the first four hours and double time thereafter. The factory used outdated machinery yet so good was the pay that the Papanui Firestone factory was as productive as any in the world. And with high standards of safety.

          Good union, an employer who obviously could be persuaded and benefitted accordingly, a well-paid workforce who worked exceedingly hard to earn their bonuses and the cleaners being recognised as integral to the efficient running of the factory were given a good productivity bonus.

          I learned about unionism there, met some incredible men of WW2 war hero status and paid my own way through Varsity for three years from 12 weeks work a year.

      • Chris 1.1.4


  2. greywarshark 2

    Hooray. In The Old Days employees had to bring their own coal to provide for the heating in their work places I believe. Health and safety now set up such a rigmarole that most of the burden for keeping disease down and preventing accidents is loaded onto the workers, and according to the post, in their own time.
    Dickens, stop rolling in your grave.

  3. me 3

    Seriously? ‘Greed, like rust, never sleeps.’ I read that somewhere.

    It’s time we got rid of the rust that permeates anything good about this country.

    Very Dickensian, with its nasty little scrabbling about in the lives of the already low paid to grasp that last little bit of humanity.

    Fxcking disgusting.

  4. bwaghorn 4

    Good . Back in the forestry days we travelled anything up to 1hour 30 and were to be in the Bush starting our saw at 7 am all unpaid.

  5. BM 5

    I agree with this.

    Many bosses expect you to come in early to plan and discuss the days work, all unpaid.

    Personally, I think it’s bullshit, once you’re at work your workday’s started and you should be paid for that time.

  6. … [ ” Anecdotal research by the Meat Workers Union has shown that many meat workers have an increasing encroachment on their own time.

    Add to this the insistence from companies like AFFCO of imposing fewer breaks because their mates in the National Party changed the law . But what’s clear is the Courts are increasingly of the view that the amount of unpaid work by a range of workers, whether they be in social services, retail, and now manufacturing has to come to an end ” ] …


    Great article and hurrah for the courts decision. 3 Decades these cheapskates have been doing in workers in this country , – after Ruth Richardson’s Employment Contracts Act and her mates pilfering out of the pockets of people who actually DO work for their living…

    Still , we did experience ‘tinkering’ over that time, didn’t we… to placate the masses when they got restless…

    Not bloody good enough.

    National are gone and look like it’ll be a very long time before they are back. Its time now for working people to reconsider their unions , support them , and where needed ,- call these rogue employers out.

    • And yes … this is NZ , not some third world outfit that thinks its OK to be a leech and sponge off someone because they don’t wear a white collar.

      Eh , Mr ‘ Talley ‘ man….

      Harry Belafonte – “Banana Boat Song (Day O)” – 1956 – YouTube

  7. ankerawshark 7

    Congratulations Darien to you and/or whoever worked so hard for this.

    Bloody outrage that workers had to do this in there on time.

  8. Chris T 8

    Seems a decent decision

  9. patricia bremner 9

    Well done Darien and the team. Quite a few workers are having a better Christmas this year, thanks Jacinda Winston and James. Makes good reading. People getting a living wage, repaid holiday and other unpaid work. In memory of a great teacher’s Union Rep ‘You won’t get me I’m part of the Union’ Remembered for all you did Rose.

  10. Tiger Mountain 10

    good decision Darien, no wonder the meat industry tries to import more compliant workers!

    Union members have achieved a lot in this country despite various efforts to wipe them out, it was a laugh, some of the nasty calls made to Etū recently over the Air NZ potential strikes, “ruining my holidays”–Unions won holidays in the first place!

  11. gsays 11

    Thanks for bringing this up Darien.
    I got asked about a 5 minute discrepancy in time sheet today.
    I will keep this concept in my back pocket.

  12. mary berry 12

    One step in the right direction, now Alliance Group Ltd needs to pay their workers the money they owe from underpaying rest breaks for years. A .5% pay rise in 2012 does not cut it, the Lean Meats court of appeal in 2016 ruled they must be paid at the rate prior to work, yet still nothing has been done about it. The longer they take to fix this the more it looks to the workers like employer theft.

    • Darien Fenton 12.1

      Mary : the Lean Meats case was taken by the MWU. Please be assured that the liability for underpaid rest breaks is part of every negotiation including in current Alliance negotiations. However, the legal liability is for six years, not back to 2012.

      • mary berry 12.1.1

        Darien; With respect that is my point exactly. This underpayment is not up for negotiation it is a legal requirement. Because of the 6yr claim limit, Alliance workers [including former workers] are losing out on reimbursement because of the time it is taking the MWU to follow up on the 2016 court of appeal decision. This is not fair though I think late knowledge, mistake, and the 15 year longstop could apply. These workers pay the MWU to ensure their statutory and contractual entitlements.
        I have had my claim in since 2017, so the 6yrs includes the backpay that was paid on the 14 Mar 2012. I am claiming the proper backpay to 1 Apr 2009.

  13. RedLogix 13

    Another common example would be retail merchandisers who after they finally get home, will spend up to an hour of their own time posting data.

    And then another hour the next morning preparing for the day, again all unpaid

    This sort of encroachment is rife. It’s mostly about a lack of clear rules and enforcement, and a subsequent race to the bottom.

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