US meat giant Tyson Foods will pay out up to US$32m following a lawsuit over payment for hours worked.

Tyson will pay up to $17.5m to nearly 17,000 workers and ex-workers and also faces $14.5m in legal costs.

The 12-year dispute was finally settled following a decision by the United States District Court in Georgia.

The lawsuit charged Tyson with violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Meatpacking and food processing workers wear specialised protective gear while they work to protect both themselves and the food.

Before the lawsuits began, meatpacking companies did not pay workers for time spent taking the gear on and off, which plaintiffs argued added up to thousands of dollars of lost pay over years of work.

A Tyson spokesperson said: “The terms of the parties’ joint settlement agreement prohibit public commentary from the company and the plaintiffs. We can say the action was resolved on a satisfactory basis.”