Labour urges Talley's to resolve Affco meatworkers dispute

The Labour Party has urged Talley's Group to resolve the five-month dispute between Affco and Wairoa meatworkers.

The Labour Party has urged Talley's Group to resolve the five-month dispute between Affco and Wairoa meatworkers, saying it is causing severe financial hardship for the employees, their families and the local community.

Labour's workplace relations spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said he and leader Andrew Little have written to the owners of Affco, Peter and Michael Talley, expressing concern that about 170 Wairoa workers have been locked out of their workplace since last September despite an Employment Court ruling in their favour.

The workers have been unable to pay their rent and other bills, Mr Lees-Galloway said. "Some have been issued eviction notices and many are relying on donations of food to feed their families."

The dispute was back in the Employment Court in Auckland last week with Affco and the Meat Workers Union at odds over the terms and conditions on which the locked out workers will go back on the job.

The court decided in November that Affco's lockout of freezing workers at plants across the North Island who had refused to sign individual contracts was illegal and that the company had breached the Employment Relations Act by not acting in good faith while collective bargaining was continuing.

Affco, the country's fourth-largest meat processor, has insisted the locked-out workers return to work on night-shift which the union contends is discriminatory and doesn't take into account the seniority provisions in the collective contract.

Mr Lees-Galloway said they were also concerned about workers in seven other Affco plants who had signed individual contracts after being locked out.

"At those plants union members have been moved on to shifts they cannot work, pay has been cut, key delegates sacked, workers punished for wearing union-branded t-shirts, and there are  health and safety concerns," he said.

During last week's Employment Court hearing Meat Workers Union national secretary Graham Cooke gave evidence that he thought it was uneconomic for Affco to start the season with both a day and night-time shift at all its North Island plants apart from Moerewa, which is the first time it has done so.

Mr Cooke said member feedback was that the plants were processing low stock numbers and that they were working reduced hours and earning low wages.

However, Affco lawyer Paul Wicks, QC, disputed that two shifts were uneconomic and said the company's evidence was that employees were working longer hours and earning more.