Union victory puts cloud over smelter

COLLETTE DEVLIN
Last updated 05:00 17/05/2014

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The future of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters could again be under the spotlight after workers won an employment dispute that will cost the company an estimated $20 million.

In May last year 64 Printing and Manufacturing Union members won an Employment Relations Authority case they took against NZAS regarding a dispute over lieu days, but the decision was appealed. A two-day hearing was held in December.

The workers found out late yesterday the appeal has been overturned and are understood to be delighted.

Not surprisingly, smelter bosses are disappointed by the decision, which could have a significant impact on the already cash-strapped business.

NZAS general manger Gretta Stephens said: "There will be a review to understand the implications for the business during this challenging time."

EPMU Southland organiser Trevor Hobbs said he was pleased for the workers.

The union had showed it could deliver and he urged other workers to join the union because he believed there were a "heap of [workforce] issues" that still needed to be sorted out at the smelter.

The dispute centred on the interpretation of lieu days after workers at the plant changed from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts in the 1990s.

The company continued to provide the 12-hour shift workers with an additional eight hours of paid leave in respect of each public holiday.

The union argued it should have been providing the workers with an additional 12 hours paid leave for each public holiday, which the authority agreed with.

During the appeal Judge Tony Couch said he needed to give it a good deal of thought because it was not an easy case.

At the time NZAS human resources specialist Barry Simmonds calculated it could cost NZAS $19 million if the Employment Relations Authority's ruling was upheld.

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.

collette.devlin@stl.co.nz

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