Most Imlay meatworkers forced to return to work this season on individual employment agreements are now back on their collective agreement, New Zealand Meat Workers' Union Imlay secretary Ashley Cooper said.

When the new season began, meat company Affco would employ only workers willing to accept individual employment agreements. A November 18 Employment Court judgment said that was illegal.

Most were now back on the collective and Mr Cooper is working to get the late ones on.

The season is at its peak, with two chains and about 500 staff working. New people being employed are on individual contracts, but many are asking to join the union.


Union morale is high, following the Employment Court decision. "Even former union members who have been sitting on the fence want to rejoin."

However Affco has not allowed Mr Cooper to reopen the office where he used to deal with union matters on-site.

There have been reports of Affco managers discriminating against union members at other meatworks. Asked whether it happened at Imlay, Mr Cooper said nothing could be proven.

Managers at some of Affco's other seven meat works have suspended staff who wore union T-shirts on the way to work, and banned a union official from wearing one on-site.

The union members' collective expired in December 2013 and they have had no pay increases since. Negotiations to reach a new agreement were undermined by Affco, union organising director Darien Fenton said. Affco has asked the court if it can use a provision of the new Employment Relations Amendment Bill to walk away from bargaining. Ms Fenton said the company was unsuccessful, because it had not been bargaining in good faith.

The union wants a new collective agreement. It has asked the court to fix the terms itself, because bargaining hasn't worked. That can be done through a provision of earlier employment law, the 2000 Employment Relations Act - a provision Ms Fenton said had never been used before.

Mr Cooper is optimistic about the matters before the Employment Court in 2016. "This is a year of legal issues that's going to be very important. "

Ms Fenton said there was union organising at all eight Affco sites, with support from New Zealand's Council of Trade Unions and the International Union of Food Workers.