More than 760 meatworkers have been indefinitely locked out after employment contract talks between meat processor AFFCO and the meat workers union broke down.
AFFCO issued the indefinite lockout notice to 762 workers - which came into effect at 5am this morning - after mediation talks over a collective contract broke down yesterday.
The company is offering a 4.3 per cent pay rise over two years, but only if a new collective agreement is signed without dispute.
New Zealand Meat Workers Union national secretary Dave Eastlake said the contract talks were over flexibility of production.
"We want it in agreement form and they want it in verbal form.''
It came as a shock to the union when the lockout notice was issued yesterday, Mr Eastlake said.
"We met with them yesterday and offered to discuss and alleviate concerns and the response we got was the lockout would go ahead.
"When we got the notice, we weren't expecting it actually we were in discussion with them...and discussions had been going - albeit slowly - but we were making progress.''
The lockout affects staff at five of the company's eight plants; at Moerewa, Horotiu, Imlay, Wairoa and Manawatu.
It only affected two thirds of the union members, with AFFCO keeping one third on to maintain production at the plants.
About 70 per cent of the meat workers at the plants were union members, Mr Eastlake said.
The union would be reassessing its situation today, he said.
"We sent in a proposition to the company yesterday and they went away and said they'll look at it and respond in a timely manner, whatever that means.''
AFFCO director of operations Rowan Ogg told Radio New Zealand there was some significant hurdles to cross before an agreement could be reached.
"It was a tough call but for quite some time now made very little progress in respect of the negotiations and at the same time we've had a number of litigations coming through (from the union) on some of the items we're actually trying to negotiate, and that's an untenable situation.