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Affco hurting too, court told

MATT NIPPERT
Last updated 15:55 16/05/2012

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Union members don't have a monopoly in misery from the fallout of a three-month lockout at meat processor Affco, the Employment Court has been told.

Hearings began today for a claim brought by the Meat Workers Union seeking to end Affco's's lockout of 976 workers at its plants in Feilding, Moerewa, Wanganui, Horotiu and Wairoa.

Mark Hammond, acting for Affco, told the court while union members may be hurting due to the lockout, Affco was also suffering.

"There has also been considerable hardship to the company. It has been able to function, but at much lower levels of production. Pain is working both ways," he said.

Hammond said the stress of strikes and lockouts on parties in an industrial dispute was partly the point of taking such action. "It encourages parties to reach an agreement," he said.

There were disputes over the number of workers subject to the lockout, with Hammond claiming many employees were engaged in concurrent strike action.

Hammond said 437 were locked out, and another 810 were on strike.

The union's claim the lockout was illegal would hinge on whether it was determined that Affco's main intention in issuing the lockout notices was for the purposes of deunionising its plants, he said.

Hammond said this was not the case and the lockout was legal. Affco locked out its workers after concluding negotiations with the union were deadlocked and were for the legal purpose of trying to force an agreement, he said.

Earlier, the union told the court that the resulting hardship from the lockout had caused "massive social damage".

Peter Cranney, lawyer for the union, described the fallout as a "calamity".

"In the communities concerned power and telephone bills are unpaid, hot water and electricity is scarce or non-existent, and many of the affected workers and families face rising debt, sick children without the ability to pay for treatment, and cars without petrol," he said.

The hearing is scheduled to last five days.

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