Partial victory for cleaners

Last updated 11:06 09/08/2012

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A group of 50 cleaners who took a long running employment case all the way from Massey University to the Supreme Court have won a partial victory.

The dispute began in July 2010 when Massey changed contractors from Spotless to OCS, which resulted in a reduction in cleaning hours.

Almost four months of protest and court action culminated in OCS locking out more than 20 employees.

The Service and Food Workers' Union (SFWU) took court action in response to the way workers were treated.

Since then the argument about the cleaners' right to negotiate redundancy entitlements with the global cleaning giant has worked its way through the court system.

The Employment Court supported their claim, but the Court of Appeal turned it down.

It said held the employees could not bargain for redundancy compensation because their collective employment agreement ruled it out.

It also said the exclusion of redundancy payments excluded the right to bargain for any other form of redundancy entitlement.

The Supreme Court heard the cleaners' case last month.

A decision, issued today, upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision on the first point but reversed it on the second.

The decision means where an employment agreement rules out any right to a particular form of redundancy entitlement, employees may not bargain for it.

However they can bargain for any other form of entitlement not expressly excluded by the agreement, for example redeployment, retraining, or time off to look for another job.

That means the cleaners may not try for redundancy, but can bargain for any other form of entitlement.
In court, union lawyer Peter Cranney said the issue came down to how the law treated vulnerable workers.

"These are the people that kept the place spick and span day in and day out."

For OCS, Bruce Corkill, QC, argued that the workers' employment agreement had excluded redundancy entitlements. Nor were they entitled to statutory redundancy under the Employment Relations Act.

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- Fairfax Media


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