The industrial dispute at the Open Country dairy factory at Waharoa in Waikato has taken another turn, with the company proposing to restructure its milk powder operation there.
Consultation packs have been issued to 15 employees in the milk powder plant, outlining a proposal to change from a four-shift to a three-shift system.
The packs have gone to non-union personnel who are still working at the plant as well as Dairy Workers Union members who are currently suspended on full pay after taking strike action last month.
Company chairman Laurie Margrain says the cost of producing milk powder at Waharoa is more than double what it costs at the Open Country's other two milk powder plants at Wanganui and in Southland, which already run on a three-shift system.
He says the restructuring proposal has been in the pipeline for the past year and does not affect the separate cheese making operation at the site.
However, the Dairy Workers Union has condemned it as a further attempt by the company to prevent employees from joining a union and getting a collective agreement.
It says the restructuring would significantly reduce the permanent workforce in the powder and whey plant.
Union secretary James Ritchie says 36 members at the Waharoa cheese and milk powder plants are entering their third week of effectively being locked out. Further mediation is to be held on Thursday.