A judge has dismissed a court action from the New Zealand Meat Workers Union against Affco over claims the company was attempting to lock out workers who refused to sign individual agreements.
One-hundred-and-ninety seasonal workers at Affco's Rangiuru plant were represented by the union on Tuesday when its application for an injunction was refused in the Employment Court.
The matter was heard in Rotorua and Chief Employment Court Judge Graeme Colgan released his decision last night.
The union had argued those seeking the interim injunction want to be re-engaged at the plant when its new operating season begins on Monday, but the company was attempting to lock out those who refused to sign individual agreements.
Previously, those involved in the court action had been employed on collective contracts.
The signed individual agreements were to have been handed back to the company this week but the union intervened by lodging an application for an urgent injunction.
Affco denied it was locking out those who refused to sign individual agreements and said seasonal workers' employment ceased when the season ended.
It also claimed there was no evidence former seasonal workers had been denied employment and that interim injunction could harm the union, not Affco.
Judge Colgan rejected the union's application based on the "lack of strength" of the union's case for trial; the effect of an injunction on the majority of Affco's Rangiuru employees who were not members of the union and who had agreed to individual employment agreements; and potential financial loss - "important not only for Affco but for the second plaintiffs [employees] if they are not able to start earning again soon".
The overall justice of the case favoured Affco, Judge Colgan said.
"What might be called the 'bigger picture' of future employment relations between the union, its members, and Affco is an important factor."
By maintaining the status quo, the parties were more likely to make progress with their bargaining for a national collective agreement, he said. As well as maintaining the employment and incomes of the workers.
However, Judge Colgan warned Affco that many of the terms and conditions of its new individual employment agreements appeared to be of "dubious validity" and "may well be tested rigorously if they are applied in unmodified form and literally".
The court urged Affco to re-examine, negotiate and improve its relationships with a significant sector of its staff and the union for a mutually trustworthy employment relationship.