A senior government scientist who intentionally allowed
genetically modified ryegrass plants to flower and
potentially release pollen was justifiably sacked, the
Employment Relations Authority has found.
Igor Kardailsky was dismissed from his job at AgResearch's
Grasslands facility in Palmerston North in July after the
Crown research institute decided his actions breached
Ministry for Primary Industry regulations and could have
caused a serious risk to biosecurity, the environment or
Dr Kardailsky claimed he was unjustifiably dismissed.
The ryegrass plants were allowed to flower while Dr
Kardailsky was on a brief period of annual leave in May last
year, during which time he received an email from delegated
facility operator Alicia Scott who said the flowering plants
needed to be cut back or bagged.
Dr Kardailsky replied that there should not be too many
flowering and the heads that emerged were immature.
He said he would have a look the next day and asked that
nothing was cut back in the meantime.
Ms Scott asked in reply if she could remove flower spikes. Dr
Kardailsky did not reply, so she took photos and removed the
Three days later Dr Kardailsky sent an email to his team
leader in which he said he struggled to understand why Ms
Scott had done so, after which an employment investigation
AgResearch concluded that Dr Kardailsky had breached policy
and Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and refused
to obey a lawful and reasonable instruction.
The breach was reported to the ministry as an event of
"critical non-compliance" which "could have caused a serious
risk to biosecurity, the environment, or the health and
safety of people and communities".
Dr Kardailsky argued there were contradictions in the
controls over flowering plants, noting the documentation
approving his experiment did not specifically prohibit the
ryegrass from flowering.
He said the study and observation of flowering ryegrass was
inherent to his research.
But a senior AgResearch scientist in the same field of study
said there was no requirement within Dr Kardailsky's research
for the plants to produce pollen, and it was clearly
understood that grass species were to be bagged or cut back
when they started flowering.
Employment Relations Authority member Michelle Ryan agreed
with AgResearch that Dr Kardailsky had not properly contained
the flowering ryegrass in accordance with procedures.
"I consider it was fair and reasonable for AgResearch to
conclude that Dr Kardailsky intended the ryegrass to flower
without the use of controls," she said.
Dr Kardailsky had argued Ms Scott's actions in cutting back
the plants were "unduly severe and excessive" and challenged
her assessment that the plants were flowering and releasing
But Ms Ryan dismissed allegations Ms Scott had an ulterior
motive for reporting the flowering plants, namely
professional tensions between her and Dr Kardailsky.
Ms Ryan found there were grounds for dismissal and rejected
Dr Kardailsky's personal grievance claim.
Costs were reserved.
- Matthew Backhouse of APNZ