The Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. Photo by Allison Rudd.
It could cost New Zealand Aluminium Smelters $19 million
to compensate eligible shift workers underpaid lieu day
payments, the Employment Court heard yesterday.
Sixty-four Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union
(EPMU) members have already won a victory at the Employment
Relations Authority (ERA), which said earlier in the year
that because the workers did standard 12-hour shifts they
should receive 12 hours of lieu payments for each of the 11
public holidays during the year, irrespective of whether they
work on those days - not the eight hours per day the company
had paid them over almost 20 years.
NZAS appealed that decision and a two-day hearing in
Invercargill concluded yesterday with Judge Tony Couch
reserving his decision.
At issue is the wording of a sentence in the collective
employment contracts or individual employment contracts in
place when the smelter switched to 12-hour shifts in late
1993, which entitled workers to one day of lieu leave for
each public holiday day. Lieu entitlements are different for
Appearing for NZAS, Pheroze Jagose, of Wellington, said in
his closing arguments yesterday lieu payments must be made at
eight hours a day, not 12.
''It must be eight hours. Leave entitlements remained the
same when the change to 12-hour shifts was made. Twenty years
down the track it can't be 12 hours, which would leave the
company with a $19 million liability.''
That figure had been calculated by an NZAS witness, human
resources specialist Barry Simmonds, he said.
Mr Simmonds said paying workers retrospectively would cost
$13 million, with a further $6 million required to continue
paying all eligible workers until they resigned or retired.
NZAS has already said it will compensate all eligible workers
if the ERA decision is upheld, not just the union members
taking the claim. Until this week, it had said compensation
could cost $7 million.
Mr Jagose said the case boiled down to what parties expected
when 12-hour shifts were introduced. It was made clear at the
time the switch - which was strongly supported by workers as
better for their working and family lives - had to be done on
a ''no disadvantage, no additional cost'' basis.
''Everyone went into the new arrangement with their eyes wide
He said the statement of one union witness, Andrew Weller,
that he expected the status quo as far as leave entitlements
was concerned, was telling.
''The status quo was eight hours, and that's what the workers
continued to get.''
The Employment Relations Authority had interpreted the
sentence in the contracts ''exceptionally literally'', Mr
Jagose said, asking Judge Couch to look at the ''natural and
ordinary'' meaning of the sentence rather than the union's
''impractical and strange interpretation''.
Giving evidence on Monday, EPMU southern organiser Trevor
Hobbs said the issue was first raised by the union in 1995,
but was not resolved.
The public gallery of the small Invercargill No 4 courtroom
was full for yesterday's court hearing, with about 25 smelter
workers and a smattering of smelter managers listening,
including general manager Gretta Stephens.