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Silver Fern Forced to Pay Redundancy to Seasonal Workers

18 December 2014

NEW ZEALAND - The New Zealand Employment Relations Authority has found meat processor Silver Fern Farms guilty of failing to pay seasonal workers redundancy, when the company did not rehire them during the 2013-2014 processing season.

The company had been taken to the authority by the New Zealand Meat Workers union because it claimed that the company had broken the contract over rehiring seasonal workers and it had failed to consult with the union.

The dispute surrounded the workers at Silver Fern’s Silverstream plant in Otago.

The Union said that the Silverstream seasonal workers are entitled to payment of redundancy compensation because they were not engaged in their usual seasonal employment in the 2013/2014 lamb processing season.

The Union sought compensation for the employees and redundancy payments and legal costs.

Silver Fern Farms denied that the clause in the collective employment agreement operated to make the employees redundant and said that an exception in clause applied because the employees remained on a seasonal lay-off, although that lay-off was a long one.

Silver Fern added that that if the employees were redundant then the fact that a number of employees accepted work at the Finegand plant means that they were
re-deployed and, therefore, the redundancy payment provisions should not apply to them.

However, Christine Hickey from the Employment Relations Authority found that Silver Fern was in the wrong.

“A Silverstream seasonal employee expects to be laid off at the end of each season and re-engaged at the start of the new season,” she said.

“A seasonal employee is one, who was employed in the previous season, or in previous seasons. If a seasonal employee was a competent and satisfactory employee in the previous season they expect to be given at least five days’ notice by Silverstream that they are required for a lamb processing season.

“That seasonal work, although not fixed in duration or by start date, is the usual seasonal employment for a seasonal employee.

“Usual seasonal employment was not available to seasonal employees over the
2013/2014 lamb carcase processing season at Silverstream because SFF did not need to run processing at Silverstream. SFF attributes the lack of lamb carcasses that season to market and climatic conditions.

“On the face of it, the Silverstream seasonal employees’ usual seasonal employment was made unavailable because their positions were superfluous to the needs of their employer in the 2013/2014 season. Therefore, according to clause 39.2(b) they were made redundant.”

The union and the company are now trying to sort out redundancy payments and Ms Hickey said it was not appropriate to enforce any penalties at the present time.

She also reserved costs.

TheMeatSite News Desk

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