Hundreds of demonstrators were locked out of the Rotorua Lakes Council as Rotorua Aquatic Centre staff teamed up with InfraCore staff to hikoi (march) on its front door.

The hikoi was not allowed in or out of the building as the council denied Aquatic Centre staff the opportunity to present their petition, which had more than 6000 signatures, to the council meeting.

A union representative for the Aquatic Centre said they were disappointed but not surprised.

However, the council said it offered a delegation the opportunity to meet with the Rotorua mayor and Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive and that was declined.

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Earlier, the chanting of more than 300 voices echoed down Arawa St as they made their way to the council building.

Both InfraCore and the Aquatic Centre have separate issues, but came together to air their grievances.

The council had outsourced management of the Aquatic Centre to Community Leisure Management (CLM), while council-controlled organisation InfraCore has been locked in a pay dispute with the Northern Amalgamated Workers Union and First Union, resulting in today's protest.

The march began with a karakia at Kuirau Park, lifeguards, swim instructors and swimmers, joined by supporters from the public.

Northern Amalgamated Workers Union organiser Robert Popata said the hikoi was about the community saying no to outsourcing.

"We never win fights by being aggressive, or breaking the law. We need to keep this as civil as we can."

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As they brought traffic along Arawa St to a standstill the protesters sang waiata, performed haka and chanted for better consultation from the council.

Popata said the march was a success. Protesters handled themselves well and the support was overwhelming.

"We are disappointed, but not surprised the council chose to lock their doors. These are our fellow workers, so I don't know what they thought we would do."

He said the offer by the council to have a delegation of four people meet with the mayor and chief executive was "symbolic, not meaningful".

"If they weren't going to sit down and have meaningful discussion, then what's the point?"

A swimming instructor at Rotorua Lakes Swim School, Louisa Breakwell, said the Aquatic Centre staff were her family.

"Our leadership, staff that trained us and got us to where we are, are the ones being cut."
She walked at the front of the group alongside her fellow staff members, with a sign reading "RLC managers are to blame".

Council sport and recreation manager Rob Pitkethley said in a statement last week the council had "firm options of employment, with CLM, for 36 of the 38 permanent staff, at the same pay and on similar conditions".

He said all 28 lifeguards and swim tutors had been given job options with CLM and eight of 10 remaining staff also had firm options for employment.

Some of those staff members hid tears behind sunglasses as they could hear the support marching behind them down the street.

Police attending to a protester who collapsed outside the council building. Photo/Carmen Hall
Police attending to a protester who collapsed outside the council building. Photo/Carmen Hall

This was the last full council meeting of the year, and the livestream of the public session lasted under eight minutes before the meeting moved into its planned confidential portion.

From inside the gallery the protesters could be heard chanting and singing as they waited to be let inside.

Te Tatou o Te Arawa board member Potaua Biasiny-Tule said the protesters just wanted to put their petition down.

"That's their right. When I was a student we would have just stormed the place, now they're my whanau. We just want someone to come out and accept the petition."

Biasiny-Tule was seen having a heated discussion outside council chambers with the council's chief executive office manager Craig Tiriana.

When their request for a delegation to enter the meeting was denied, Aquatic Centre Staff left.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick told the Rotorua Daily Post this afternoon she was prepared to meet with a delegation from the Aquatic Centre.

"I was perfectly relaxed to meet them, so we could talk openly and frankly about what is the right information. There was never a formal request to give us a petition."

Chadwick said a letter was taken out to the protesters offering to meet with herself and chief executive Geoff Williams and she was prepared to leave the meeting to meet with them.

"We love this Aquatic Centre. It plays a very important role in our community and we don't want that to change and councillors were quite emphatic about that."

Chadwick said she had been under a lot of pressure to deal with the Aquatic Centre.

"We all love this place. Our kids learnt to swim there, grandchildren learnt to swim there.

"We know these people and individuals, it's like a big family. But there is no way politically, other than seeking assurances from the CEO that the right processes have been followed, would I ever go and front anybody in the middle of industrial action."

Williams told the Rotorua Daily Post this afternoon the council had an obligation to ensure the business of the council was effectively protected.

"When you've got large situations such as this it's important that we are actually able to do just that, to make sure the council is able to function effectively.

"In this case we had to ensure that council were able to operate, but also to provide the group with the opportunity to dialogue with and to present material to the mayor and myself and that's exactly what was offered."

He said a lot of work had gone into understanding CLM and in their view it is a "very professional, highly respected company" and potential upgrades were "much more likely to happen with this arrangement".

Both parties are going to mediation on Monday.