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The Service and Food Workers' Union has warned the cash-strapped Southern District Health Board could find itself embroiled in costly legal action if it goes ahead with food service outsourcing.
National secretary John Ryall said the union would lodge the a similar case against Southern to the one it is fighting with the Auckland DHB over outsourcing.
The Auckland case is in mediation.
The union says workers should not be shunted from DHB employment to the Compass Group without being told whether their jobs were safe, as it breached legal rights of vulnerable workers.
''We filed legal action against Auckland DHB to stop them going ahead with their plan to privatise the food services,'' Mr Ryall said.
''We think that there's major legal issues around pushing people over to a contractor under Part 6A [of the Employment Relations Act], which is meant to protect vulnerable workers, when you know that as soon as they move over they're going to have their hours and jobs cut.
''If Southern go ahead with the proposal to contract out all the work and privatise the services a similar sort of legal action will be taking place in Southern,'' Mr Ryall said.
Up to 20% of southern hospital food workers could be out of work after Compass reviews the service.
Outsourcing is an issue for the Southern and Auckland boards, which directly employed their food workers.
Most boards opting into the national Compass contract had previously outsourced, making the process easier.
Mr Ryall urged scepticism about promised benefits of the food service ''experiment'', which he had seen before with a different company in the 1990s.
''What looks pretty nutritious at one time turns out to be a mouthful of crap at another time.''
Auckland consultant Pat Snedden's report for the Southern board gave the plan the green light, but said a major challenge was avoiding the ''rocky'' start experienced in Auckland.
Southern board chairman Joe Butterfield declined to comment when contacted.