Some workers who returned jubilantly to the chains, tables and freezers at the Affco Wairoa meat plant yesterday may be on the job less than a fortnight because of a possible early seasonal drop in the works' kill.
The news was conveyed to staff about 8am, barely two hours after they emerged across the carparks in the pre-dawn dark to man their stations for the first time since being locked-out amid an industrial dispute 13 weeks ago.
The return to work was signalled last week by a deal brokered by iwi leaders in about 60 hours of employer-union meetings in Auckland, and a plant ratification by Wairoa staff on Monday.
A staff member said the drop in the kill would not normally take place until August or September, but it had not been a normal year.
Meatworkers Union Affco Wairoa branch president John Hubbard, a freezing worker since 1979 when he was taken on at the then Waitaki plant aged just 15, said that while it was disappointing, it was too early to be negative.
In his first year in the union chair after about six years as a delegate, he said there had been sacrifices, but he and staff are hopeful of building new relationships with the bosses, particularly with the Talley Group that now owns Affco.
They were keen to see Andrew Talley on the site, and cement the hope for the plant that was promised over the last week.
"We all pretty much arrived between 5am and 5.30," Mr Hubbard said. "There was a lot of happiness and joy in the air, that we were going to all be back at work."
The staff and families are overawed by the support they got through the three months out of work, particularly from Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Inc and chairman and former freezing worker Ngahiwi Tomoana.
In a letter to Hawke's Bay Today on behalf of those who had been locked out, worker Therese Turipa named a list of other organisations and businesses that had also helped.
They included the Wairoa District Council, Wairoa Waikaremoana Trust Board, the Salvation Army and businesses such as New World and Writeprice, Fish and Feathers, and the families of Hawke's Bay Hides.
"We cannot name all of you, but please know from the bottom of our hearts we thank each and every one of you for your support," she wrote.
"Without the support of our iwi, who initiated the involvement of the other iwi leaders, we have no doubt this dispute would have gone on indefinitely."
It had brought iwi together as never before, she said.