The Court of Appeal has ruled striking Affco workers unlawfully locked out three years ago should be paid for lost wages.

But they shouldn't expect to see it turn into money for a festive season spend-up, according to New Zealand Meat Workers Union national secretary Graham Cooke.

He expected company owner Talleys to take all four weeks it has from the time of yesterday's judgement delivery before deciding it will accept the decision, or go another round and take the matter to the Supreme Court.

The Employment Court ruled three years ago the lock-out of Affco staff was unlawful.

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Workers, who were without pay for up to five months, should be paid lost wages under the Wages Protection Act, the Court of three judges decided in turning down the company's appeal.

"It will bring some cheer to those workers if they can look forward to a payment early in the new year," Cooke said.

The combined payout was estimated at close to $2 million, including interest, Cook believed.

In Wairoa, union site president and plant employee Therese Turipa said workers had been through a lot.

"Through five months, our families were without wages and it was only with the support of the community, our union and the wider union movement we managed to get through."

"But it left scars that continue to this day," she said.

"We've lost members due to hardship and even death. Even worse, Affco has lost skilled and dedicated workers who have had no choice but to move to other places to find work."

Shed secretary and beef slaughterman Pete Amato said workers "keep hoping Affco will do the right thing and promptly pay Wairoa union members for the terrible loss they incurred by standing up to the Company in 2015".

"We've been through court case after court case and in every instance, Affco was found to have unlawfully locked us out," he said.

"We all just want to move on. Our small community and our whanau have suffered and we need to begin the rebuilding. We hope that Affco will accept this decision so we can begin to put the past behind us."