New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS) made ''unilateral
changes'' to some workers' public holiday lieu day
entitlements without consultation, a union delegate has told
the Employment Court in Invercargill.
Earlier this year, the Employment Relations Authority decided
in favour of a case taken by 64 Engineering, Printing and
Manufacturing Union (EPMU) members, who said because they
worked standard 12-hour shifts at the Tiwai Point smelter
they should receive 12 hours of lieu payments for each public
holiday, not the eight hours per day the company had paid
them over almost 20 years.
NZAS said paying the 64 workers, and others on identical
employment contracts, could cost it $7 million.
NZAS has appealed the decision and a hearing began in
Invercargill yesterday, before Judge Tony Couch.
EPMU southern organiser Trevor Hobbs said the issue affected
shift workers who had signed employment contracts before
12-hour shifts were introduced in late 1993.
Lieu entitlements were different for newer employees.
When the affected shift workers worked eight-hour shifts,
their contracts said they would receive 11 days' wages
annually - one for each public holiday - in recognition of
being shift workers potentially required to work any day of
This was in addition to pay received if they worked a public
When the smelter moved to 12-hour shifts, shift workers
continued to be paid 11 lieu day payments at eight hours a
day, a total of 88 hours per year.
The union believed their lieu payments should be 11 days at
12 hours a day, equating to 132 hours per year, he said.
Mr Hobbs said the issue was first raised by the union in 1995
but was not resolved.
Later, NZAS told workers via an internal memo lieu payments
would be paid in hours - 88 hours a year - rather than in
That change was significant, he said.
''The company made unilateral changes to workers' contracts
without consulting them.
"The company seems to want the best of both worlds - they
want workers on individual contracts but they want to make
collective changes without consulting individual workers.''
The union was in a similar dispute with NZAS over how much
sick leave 12-hour shift workers were entitled to, he said.
Process controller Cliff Dobbie, who has been at the smelter
for 24 years, said he believed ''from day one'' workers were
disadvantaged by the change to 12-hour shifts in relation to
He said he discussed the issue informally many times and
raised it formally four to five times. The company ''brushed
off'' his concerns, he said.
Mr Dobbie said as far as he was concerned, the issue was
simple - 12-hour shifts should equate to 12 hours of lieu
payment for each public holiday.
That was fair, he said. If the situation had been reversed
and the smelter had gone from 12-hour shifts to eight-hour
shifts, no-one would expect the company to keep paying lieu
payments at 12 hours, he said.
Appearing for NZAS, Pheroze Jagose, of Wellington, said the
12-hour shifts were introduced on a ''no loss, no cost''
basis and it had been made clear lieu entitlements would
continue to be paid at eight hours a day.
He said the Employment Relations Authority had ''dealt with a
contractual issue in a literal way''. The sentence in the
workers' contracts it relied on when making its decision had
been given ''extraordinarily close attention'' without
examination of the other sentences around it.
Mr Jagose submitted the sentence should have been read in
context and given its ''ordinary or natural common sense
Tom Campbell, a former smelter manager and a department
manager at the time 12-hour shifts were introduced, said he
believed the company and workers had agreed when 12-hour
shifts were introduced workers would still receive lieu
payments for public holidays, but they would be paid at eight
hours a day, not 12.
Greg Lloyd appeared for the union.
The hearing resumes today.