The Court of Appeal has dismissed the Talley’s owned AFFCO’s latest attempt to prevent justice for the workers they were found to have unlawfully locked out in 2015.
In 2015, AFFCO unlawfully locked out Meat Workers Union members at Rangiuru, Feilding and Moerewa plants after they tried to impose significantly inferior individual agreements as a condition of returning to work after the season.
At the Wairoa plant, union members refused to sign the individual agreements and were without work for five months. When the first Employment Court decision came out, they were on the lawns of Parliament and they celebrated, believing they were going back to work.
However, AFFCO then tried to return them all to work on the night shift, despite the majority never having worked night shift. It took another two mediations and court cases to get AFFCO to act reasonably so Wairoa workers could return to work on individual agreements based on the collective agreement.
Then came the issue of lost wages. Another two court cases with AFFCO arguing Wairoa workers shouldn’t be paid lost wages, but if they were, they were obliged to demonstrate mitigation – in other words, what other work or social welfare benefits they received.
The Judge finally ruled that the Wairoa workers were entitled to lost wages without mitigation. This is what AFFCO appealed, on the grounds that the workers weren’t entitled to payment under the Wages Protection Act because they weren’t employees at the time they were locked out.
Thankfully, this appeal was dismissed. However, AFFCO workers aren’t celebrating just yet. They know only too well how AFFCO seems to lean over backwards to deny their wrong doing.
The original court decision was challenged by AFFCO in the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court, along with other actions such as seeking a stay of judgement and application for judicial review. The Meat Workers Union has lost count of the court actions taken, not only for the Wairoa workers but all AFFCO workers. There are still outstanding issues of loss of wages for other sites as well, not yet addressed.
Wairoa Meat Workers Union members are calling on AFFCO to do the right thing.
“We have been through so much” says Therese Turipa, Meat Workers Union site President and detain operator in ovine and bovine at the Wairoa plant.
“Through five months, our families were without wages and it was only with the support of the community, our union and the wider union movement we managed to get through. But it left scars that continue to this day. We’ve lost members due to hardship and even death. Even worse, AFFCO has lost skilled and dedicated workers who have had no choice but to move to other places to find work.
Pete Amato NZMWU Shed Secretary and Beef Slaughterman agrees.
“We keep hoping AFFCO will do the right thing and promptly pay Wairoa union members for the terrible loss they incurred by standing up to the Company in 2015. We’ve been through court case after court case and in every instance, AFFCO was found to have unlawfully locked us out.
“We all just want to move on. Our small community and our whanau have suffered and we need to begin the rebuilding. We hope that AFFCO will accept this decision so we can begin to put the past behind us” says Pete.
We all gotta hope so and this is the end of this ugly saga in NZ Employment Relations.