The union representatives of the 64 workers who won their case against the Tiwai Pt aluminium smelter, and millions of dollars in back-pay, are ‘disappointed’ that the Rio Tinto subsidiary is appealing the decision.
“The Authority was very clear that Rio Tinto has failed to pay its employees their full legal entitlements over a number of years. We believe the time has come to simply pay its workers what they are owed,” Greg Lloyd, EPMU general counsel, said.
The case, which went before the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) last week, centred around the interpretation of ‘lieu days’ for workers on 12-hour shifts. Under their employment agreement, employees were entitled to one day’s annual leave in lieu for every statutory public holiday, whether or not they worked it.
While the employer, Tiwai Pt, had interpreted one day as eight hours, the Employment, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) members claimed that a day in lieu should be 12 hours. This was because the employees had changed from an eight hour shift to a 12-hour one.
In the event, the ERA Member, Michael Loftus, sided with the EPMU members. “The allocation is a day, and a day is now 12 hours,” he stated in the decision. He observed that the company should have addressed the issue when the contract moved to a 12-hour shift. “That did not occur and now the company must live with the consequence.”
While the ERA left the parties to agree to what was owed, Fairfax reported that it was in the vicinity of $7 million.
However, the general manager of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd (NZAS), Stewart Hamilton, expressed disappointment in the decision. He told the New Zealand Herald that it was a ‘significant departure’ from the practice of the previous 17 years, and the company has since decided to appeal to the Employment Court.