About 100 seasonal workers at Moerewa's Affco freezing works who had terms of their employment contract altered will seek tens of thousands of dollars in compensation for humiliation and hurt feelings.
The New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union has instructed its lawyers to file for remedies and penalties after hundreds of its members at Affco's plants in Horotiu, Wairoa, Manawatu, Imlay in Whanganui, and Rangiuru were locked out last year.
Union workers in Moerewa were not locked out but most were put from day to night shifts.
The Court of Appeal this week upheld a declaration by the Employment Court 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.
Affco and the affected workers signed a collective employment agreement which expired on December 31, 2013 but which continued in force for a further year.
Before the 2015/16 season commenced, Affco told the workers it would not re-engage them unless they accepted terms and conditions 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.
It found that the company and the meatworkers were in a continuous employment relationship which lasted throughout the off season.
But the Court of Appeal rejected that argument, saying the seasonal meatworkers were not employed by Affco throughout the off season.
But it said the collective agreement still gave the workers ongoing and enforceable rights.
Union general secretary Graham Cooke said it was not just workers at Moerewa's Affco plant but their whanau who worked there who were affected by the way the company treated them.
He said the union's lawyers were working on compensation claims but he expected his members at Affco in Moerewa would be seeking tens of thousands of dollars.
"Some boners and slaughtermen chose not to go back to work and to find jobs at other plants. All we were particularly after was for the court to rule what Affco did in locking out our members was unlawful," he said.
"This is a major advance in human rights for meat workers and a significant step forward for collective bargaining rights generally. Today Affco got a clear message that it needs to start negotiating in good faith," he said.