A decision by the Employment Court that Affco NZ unlawfully locked out seasonal meatworkers has been upheld by the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal's judgment was released today and said the Employment Court's declaration that Affco unlawfully locked out seasonal meatworkers by refusing to engage them unless they accepted new individual terms of employment which were inconsistent with existing rights under an expired collective agreement.
The New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union claimed Affco unlawfully locked out meatworkers from processing plants in the central and upper North Island. The company and workers had been parties to a collective employment agreement which expired on December 31, 2013, but continued in force for a further year.
Before the 2015/2016 season began, Affco told the workers it would not re-engage them unless they accepted terms and condition set out in new individual agreements. The union alleged the company's actions were taken for a coercive purpose to undermine ongoing negotiations toward a new collective agreement.
The Employment Court declared that Affco's actions amounted to an unlawful lockout of its workers and found the company and meatworkers were in a continuous employment relationship which lasted throughout the off season.
The collective agreement created ongoing and enforceable rights and duties, including redundancy rights and an obligation on Affco to re-employ seasonal workers according to seniority.
The new terms offered by Affco sought to abolish the significance of seniority.
The Court of Appeal said the purpose of Affco's actions was to undermine the collective bargaining regime designed to redress the inherent inequality of power faced by workers in this situation.
The Court of Appeal concluded that the unlawful lockout provisions must extend to protect former employees who have contractual rights to an offer of re-employment from an employer which is refusing to engage them unless they accept new terms inconsistent with their existing rights.