Affco baulks at having former union chief in mediation sessions

The union's national secretary says the union "will present evidence about the company resisting implementing the court decision and the treatment of union members."

Affco's refusal to accept former union boss Helen Kelly in court-ordered mediation sessions with the Meat Workers Union has brought the two sides back to the Employment Court.

The union's national secretary, Graham Cooke, says the union "will present evidence about the company resisting implementing the court decision and the treatment of union members."

Affco and the union were sent to mediation after the Employment Court ruled that the company unlawfully locked out workers and didn't act in good faith.

Affco executives didn't immediately return calls but have previously said the company plans to appeal the Employment Court ruling that meat workers are deemed to be in continuous employment even though they are laid off at the end of the season and rehired for the new season.

That decision overturned several decades-old cases, known as the Alliance cases and the Richmond case that deemed meat workers were not in continuous employment when they were laid off at the end of a season and then hired again at the beginning of the next season This had been cited as precedent over the years.

According to Mr Cooke, former president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Ms Kelly still helped the mediation team from the "break out room" but ultimately little progress was made.

Ms Kelly, who was head of the CTU from 2007 until she stood down in October this year to battle cancer, says while the company has no legal right to prevent her being on the mediation team, she went along with it to prevent the mediation stalling.

"For me this represents a family who think they are above the law," Ms Kelly says, referring to the Talley family, whose interests in the food industry span seafood, frozen vegetables, meat and dairy products.

"The main point is they have an order they haven't complied with. But we've got a company with so much power and money and the law is so weak."

The union and Affco are before two separate authorities.  In Christchurch, they have appeared before the Employment Relations Authority, where the union is arguing the company has stonewalled by not putting up negotiators for talks about the collective contract for workers at its Wanganui Land Meat unit that processes beef and pork. The union is also trying to get access to members at South Pacific Meats, another Affco unit that it says hasn't fronted up to negotiations.

Separately, in Auckland, the two parties have been before a judge of the Employment Court in a follow-up to the November19 ruling.

The union says it has been hindered by the company in trying to represent its members and that workers have been pressured to sign individual contracts in order to start work for the new season, instead of under the existing collective contract that expired in 2013.

The company became the first under the government's new employment law to apply for an end to bargaining. Amendments to the Employment Relations Act, introduced in March this year, let firms opt out of multi-employer agreements and removed the duty under good faith bargaining for both sides to reach agreement.

(BusinessDesk)

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