Hundreds of locked-out Affco meat workers could be back on the job in the next week as a stand-off with food processing giant Talleys looks to be nearing an end.
The National Meat Workers' Union and Talleys yesterday announced "significant progress" after a meeting on Sunday brokered by representatives from the iwi leaders' forum resulted in a breakthrough.
More than 900 workers have been locked out of Affco's eight North Island plants since negotiations for a collective agreement collapsed at the end of February.
The parties were to have met today in the Employment Court, where the union wanted to continue challenging the legality of the near three-month lockout of workers.
But they announced yesterday they had reached provisional agreement on a core document, and were working towards the settlement of specific site documents for Affco's North Island plants.
Both parties were saying little yesterday, but a statement from the union confirmed the parties were trying to reach a final agreement for union members to ratify.
Locked-out workers outside Affco's Horotiu plant yesterday told the Herald they were relieved an end to their ordeal was near.
One worker believed they could be back at work later this week or early next week.
"It's been very hard to keep workers staying out here on the line with us when they are not getting a wage and can't pay the rent or mortgage, but an end is in sight."
The Herald understands that part of the union's bargaining involves the retention of "seniority" which guarantees work in each new season to workers from the last season, based on when they were first employed.
Affco company spokesman Andrew Talley said both parties had sought to learn from the dispute and were looking forward to a new relationship between the company, the union and its members.
Meat Workers' Union general secretary Dave Eastlake said its members would be "greatly relieved".