ERA decision could prove costly for Tiwai smelter

By Heather McCracken

Workers at the Tiwai Pt smelter have won an employment case relating to unpaid holiday pay. Photo / supplied
Workers at the Tiwai Pt smelter have won an employment case relating to unpaid holiday pay. Photo / supplied

A Employment Relation Authority decision on holiday pay owed to workers could be costly for the cash-strapped Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in Southland.

New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd (NZAS) said the decision in favour of the workers would cost millions of dollars in back pay and ongoing annual costs.

"This will impose an added burden on NZAS at a time when it is already losing millions of dollars every month," said acting general manager Stewart Hamilton.

The case taken by 64 Employment, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) members claimed they should be paid 12 hours annual leave in lieu for public holidays instead of eight, as all workers were rostered on standard 12 hour shifts.

Under an employment contract dated before 2004, employees would accrue a day's leave for each statutory holiday, regardless of whether it was worked.

The day was credited as eight hours, even after a change to 12-hour shifts.

The Employment Relations Authority, in a determination released yesterday, agreed the contract provided for a day's leave, with no provision limiting it to eight hours. "The allocation is a day and a day is now 12 hours."

Mr Hamilton said the decision was a significant departure from how the lieu days had operated for more than 17 years.

He said currently employees who worked a 12-hour shift on a public holiday would receive 12 hours in lieu for that day.

Every employee accrued at least 88 hours in lieu per year - eight hours each for 11 public holidays - even if the total hours worked was less.

"NZAS remains of the view that application of the lieu days benefit over the past 17 years has been fair and correct and complies with both the law and our contracts," he said.

Mr Hamilton said the company was considering its position before deciding whether to appeal against the decision in the Employment Court.

EPMU director of organising Alan Clarence says the decision was great for Tiwai Point workers.

"The authority's decision means workers will finally receive the full legal entitlements set out in their employment agreements," he said.

Mr Clarence said workers had repeatedly raised the issue with the company over the past two decades.

- APNZ

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