Multi-million dollar lieu day dispute at Tiwai

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013

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The cash-strapped Tiwai Point aluminium smelter is locked in a dispute with 64 union members at the plant which will cost the smelter millions of dollars if it loses.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union members took their case against New Zealand Aluminium Smelters to an Employment Relations Authority hearing in Invercargill yesterday.

The dispute centres around the interpretation of lieu days for 12-hour shift workers at the plant, with previous attempts by both parties to resolve the issue through mediation failing.

The 64 union members embroiled in the dispute are covered by three different versions of individual employment agreements at the plant.

They work in jobs as operators, process controllers and tradespeople.

The union claims that since hundreds of employees shifted from eight-hour to 12-hour shifts at the plant about 20 years ago the company had been incorrectly calculating their lieu day entitlements.

The company had continued to provide the 12-hour-shift workers with an additional eight hours paid leave in respect of each public holiday; whereas it should have been providing the workers with an additional 12-hours paid leave for each public holiday, the union argued.

However, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters disagreed.

Smelter lawyer Pheroze Jagose argued that when the eight-hour shift roster was replaced with a 12-hour shift roster at the plant it was done so on the basis that contractual "day's leave" entitlements would continue to be calculated as eight hour days.

"This met NZAS's ‘no disadvantage and no extra cost' concept for the new shifts, and was approved by over 90 per cent of the workforce," he said. "Now, 20 years on, the [union] seek to overturn that understanding."

Union lawyer Greg Lloyd said it was never agreed that the lieu day entitlements of the plant's 12-hour shift workers would remain at eight hours, adding that several workers had gone on to challenge the company over the years.

The union, if it wins the case, wants an order made that NZAS makes six years of back payments to the affected workers for the hours they were not paid.

The company said at the hearing that if it was found liable it would pay all its affected employees, of which there were more than 300, and it would cost the company millions.

Employment Relations Authority member Mike Loftus said he expected to make his decision within six weeks.

evan.harding@stl.co.nz

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