Yesterday, Wairoa workers went to Parliament to tell the stories of how the actions of their local Freezing Works owned by AFFCO Talley is affecting them, their whanau and community. In the midst of this, news came through that the Meat Workers Union had won the action against Talleys for unlawful lockout and unfair bargaining.
There were tears. There were chants. There was dancing. The Wairoa workers were there to tell the stories, and brought with them the stories of so many other workers employed in the seven other AFFCO plants in North Island, New Zealand.
A unanimous decision of a full bench of the Employment Court declared that :
- AFFCO Talley's actions in forcing workers back to work on individual agreements was an unlawful lockout : this applies to all sheds, including those who have gone back under oppressive individual agreements and others, like Wairoa workers, who have refused to sign and have been without work for weeks.
- The Court also ruled that the company had breached section 32 of the Employment Relations Act in trying to engage in direct individual bargaining with workers while collective bargaining is still in place.
The decision is huge. In the coming days, the MWU's priority will be on remedying the situation for the more than 1000 union members who have been disadvantaged by Talleys actions, getting Wairoa workers back to work and reorganising in AFFCO sheds to get a fair collective agreement.
But the decision also has implications for all meat workers and whether they have continuity of employment between seasons.
Ironically, Talleys, who sought to de-unionise their plants through unlawful acts may have strengthened the rights of all meat workers.