8 May 2019

Court rejects meatworks companies appeal against paying for 'donning and doffing'

7:30 pm on 8 May 2019

A court ruling that ensures meat workers are paid for the time spent preparing hygienically for meal breaks is justice, the head of their union says.

09082016. Photo Rebekah Parsons-King. Pike River families want mine's CEO to face charges. Court of Appeal Wellington.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Meat workers will now be paid for time spent preparing to go to and from rest and meal breaks, which involves strict cleaning and hygiene processes known as "donning and doffing".

Today, the Court of Appeal declined an appeal from Meat Industry employers against an Employment Court decision that ruled the process is "work" under section 6 of the Minimum Wage Act.

The original case which pitched Ovation Gisborne, Ovation Feilding and Te Kuiti Meats against the Meat Workers Union sought to decide whether donning and doffing was included in pay and whether piece work payments - pay per carcass - incorporated money for paid breaks.

In December last year, the Employment Court ruled in favour of the Meat Workers Union on both issues.

Meat Workers Union national secretary Graham Cooke said workers had been doing unpaid overtime in order to meet the health and safety requirements and it was about time that changed.

"Justice has prevailed," he said.

"More and more, workers have been paying with their own time at start and finish times, and paid and unpaid breaks have been encroached upon by company requirements around hygiene, export standards and food safety."

Mr Cooke has been in the industry for more than 50 years, having started as a seasonal worker while in university in 1968.

He said the court's decision was a "win" for all workers in meat processing companies throughout the country.

There will be ramifications across the industry and there is the potential for large sums of compensation money to be paid to workers.

The union now expects all involved companies to comply with the court decision.

No one from the meatworks companies was immediately available for comment.