Tiwai lieu days ruling may be appealed again

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2014

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The result of an employment dispute, estimated to cost New Zealand Aluminium Smelters $20 million, will likely not result in an immediate financial payout to workers.

In May last year 64 Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union members won an Employment Relations Authority case against NZAS.

The dispute concerned the interpretation of lieu days after workers at the Tiwai Pt plant changed from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts in the 1990s. The decision was appealed in December.

The appeal was overturned last week but smelter bosses are considering appealing again.

At the initial authority hearing, the company said if it was found liable it would pay all its affected employees, not just its union members, which it then estimated would cost about $7m.

Smelter human resources specialist Barry Simmonds, called as a smelter witness during the appeal hearing, said NZAS had calculated it would cost $13m to December 31 last year if the authority's ruling was upheld.

In future years it would cost the company another $6m, calculated on costs of all employees staying until they were 65.

EPMU Southland organiser Trevor Hobbs said the sum of $20m was calculated when he discovered the six-year statute of limitations applied to wage arrears only, not leave arrears. The claim was then changed from six years arrears back to day one.

There had been much hype and hysteria about the consequences of the decision, he said.

The court decision would mean Tiwai workers who qualified would have substantial adjustments made to their accumulated unused leave balances.

"It would require the Tiwai bosses' agreement for those workers to cash that leave up instead of using it.

"If workers leave Tiwai before they have used their leave entitlements then at that stage they would be paid in lieu for their unused leave."

Workers, who qualified, and had left in the past six years, would also have a wage arrears claim, he said.

Former NZAS general manager Gretta Stephens, who is now chief executive, sent an internal email to staff last week to "correct a rumour" about a financial payout to employees on the lieu days case.

"This is not necessarily the case. If the judgment stands, it applies to the leave balance of current employees. This may or may not be able to be cashed out".

There were still questions NZAS could not answer until it (and its lawyers) had a chance to examine the [employment court] document in detail, she said.

Stephens told The Southland Times the estimated $20m impact on NZAS applied to the leave entitlements of affected employees, which would be recorded as a liability on NZAS' books.

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"The workers affected by this case already get more generous allowances than their colleagues who signed contracts after the Holidays Act 2003 was introduced. Those shift workers asked to change to 12-hour shifts so they would work fewer days but the total hours they work in a year remains the same."

collette.devlin@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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