Affco seeks leave to appeal Employment Court ruling on unlawful lockouts

The ruling was one in a series of legal clashes between the group and the Meatworkers Union.

Affco NZ has sought leave to challenge an Employment Court ruling that the Talleys Group-controlled meat processor unlawfully locked out meat workers when collective bargaining talks were still under way.

The ruling was one in a series of legal clashes between the group and the Meatworkers Union, and while the court found in favour of the union, national secretary Graham Cooke said it was a pyrrhic victory because Affco has continued to block access to members and treat them as second-class workers.

Paul Wicks QC, for Affco, said the company sought leave to appeal on the basis that there were questions of law that flowed from the original judgment that the Court of Appeal should deal with on appeal. The central issue was whether seasonal work at meat processing plants gave rise to continuous employment or, as the company had argued, discontinuous employment, in the sense that in the off-season the workers aren't employed.

Employment Court judgments can only be appealed on questions of law. In the Court of Appeal today, Justice Rhys Harrison bewailed both the complexity of the application and the quality of the original judgment, which he said was "very long – a very, very long judgment which traverses a lot of ground." Justices Harrison, John Wild and Mark Cooper had difficulties finding the remedies and declarations in the judgment, and couldn't easily find the conclusions that led to the decision.

In the event, Justice Cooper furnished a "re-framed" set of the questions submitted by Mr Wicks, which Justice Harrison said was an attempt at "questions of law that might be arguable."

Union lawyer Peter Cranney told the court the Employment Court judgment had analysed the relevant employment contracts in great detail and its decision had been based on "a multiplicity of reasons."

The original case covered workers at Affco's Rangiuru, Imlay, and Manawatu plants but the company had accepted any finding would cover all eight of its North Island plants.

Affco 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 last year, let firms opt out of multi-employer agreements and removed the duty under good faith bargaining for both sides to reach agreement.

The decision on whether to grant Affco leave to appeal was reserved.


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