Tiwai Pt owes workers millions

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 14:13 07/05/2013

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The cash-strapped Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter in Southland owes its workers millions of dollars after losing an Employment Relations Authority dispute with the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union.

Sixty-four union members at the plant have won an Employment Relations Authority  case they took against New Zealand Aluminium Smelters two months ago.

The dispute was over 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 union claimed 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."

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 of dollars.

Employment Relations Authority member Mike Loftus released his decision today, ruling that the workers at the Tiwai Point smelter were owed backpay from their employer for annual leave they were legally entitled to but never received.

The authority rejected the company's argument and ruled the workers were legally entitled to twelve hours' leave in lieu of a public holiday under their employment agreements.

EPMU director of organising Alan Clarence said the decision was great news for workers at Tiwai Point.

"The authority's decision means workers will finally receive the full legal entitlements set out in their employment agreements. ''Workers had raised this issue with the company repeatedly over the last two decades, but they were ignored until they collectively joined the union and were able to take a case.

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EPMU Southland organiser Trevor Hobbs said the union would now wait 28 days to see if Tiwai appealed the decision.

The smelter company ''quite clearly'' announced it would pay out its non union members if it lost the dispute to prevent them from joining the union, he said.

''In doing so they increased the cost of the dispute to themselves by about 500 per cent. I wouldn't expect them to complain about the cost of the dispute because it's of their own making.''

The Smelter bosses could not be immediately contacted for comment.

- The Southland Times

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