Smelter lieu day case not easy - judge

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2013

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A lieu day dispute between the Tiwai Pt aluminium smelter and its employees was not an "easy case", the presiding judge said.

NZ Aluminium Smelters this week appealed an Employment Relations Authority decision, which ruled in favour of 64 Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union members working 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.

Judge Tony Couch, presiding over the appeal, said he planned to release his decision in writing as soon as possible, but warned it could still take some time. "I need to give it a good deal of thought. This is not an easy case."

During the final day of the appeal yesterday, smelter lawyer Pheroze Jagose said it was made clear when management agreed to implement 12-hour shifts there would be no changes to other aspects of employment, including leave entitlement.

The continuation of the eight-hour lieu day was expressly discussed before the changes were voted on by employees, he said.

The union members' lawyer, Greg Lloyd, argued no evidence had been presented during the appeal that showed there was an "express reference" to lieu day entitlements before employees had voted on changing the shifts.

Employees called as witnesses during the appeal had no recollection of the lieu day entitlements being directly discussed during meetings and focus groups, he said.

Mr Lloyd also refuted "the suggestion that 20 years is a long time to allow this issue to go unresolved and that somehow equates to acquiescence" of the lieu day arrangement by the employees.

Evidence provided during the appeal showed employees had raised concerns or asked questions about lieu day entitlements during the years, but the issue remained unresolved, he said.

On Monday, smelter human resources specialist Barry Simmonds said NZ Aluminium Smelters had calculated it could cost the company $19 million if the Employment Relations Authority's ruling was upheld.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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