More than 70 sawmill workers are claiming $2500 each after
they were drug-tested when cannabis plants were found growing
In a ruling released today, the Employment Relations
Authority has found Carter Holt Harvey knowingly failed to
follow its own policy when testing about 190 staff in March
Seventy-six union members have taken a case to the authority
seeking $2500 each in compensation and a $20,000 penalty for
the breach of good faith.
Tests were undertaken after two cannabis plants were found on
the grounds outside sawmill buildings on their Eves Valley
site, near Nelson.
Site manager Darryn Adams said all employees should be
subjected to a "reasonable cause" drug test because the site
was only accessible by staff and not easily accessed by the
The testing, by the New Zealand Drug Testing Agency, involved
a tester standing behind men employees as they urinated into
a cup. Women staff were allowed to give their sample in
private, the ruling said.
Half way through the testing, the Engineering, Printing and
Manufacturing Union was contacted, which told Mr Adams it
believed the testing was in breach of CHH's drug and alcohol
However, the testing continued and staff were told that while
they could refuse to provide a sample, disciplinary action
could follow, the ruling said.
One employee was found to have a "non-negative test", but
there was no suggestion in front of the authority that he had
planted the marijuana plants.
CHH told the authority it was justified in testing the
employees because it was reasonable to assume that whoever
planted the marijuana worked at the sawmill.
The company conceded the testing was not in strict accordance
with its Policy and Operating Procedures but said it was
motivated by a strong desire to protect its employees and so
the testing was justified.
But one worker, Aaron Sim, told the authority he felt he had
to prove his innocence to the company after 10 years service.
"It made people feel that everybody was being accused of
being drug users and that we were not trusted and had to
prove our innocence.
"Guilty until proven innocent is the way a lot of people have
described it, and that is how I felt."
Authority member Christine Hickey said CHH's approach was
"wrongheaded", but Mr Adams acted with honesty and openness.
"However, he did have an ulterior purpose or motivation,
which was one not allowed for in the employment agreement.
"CHH intended to find whoever had planted the plants and to
send a strong message to its staff that it would not tolerate
drugs or drug use on site."
The company knew it was acting against its own policy, but
continued on nonetheless, she said.
The breach was deliberate, but not so serious it warranted a
fine for breaching good faith.
She ordered the company and employees to sit down in
mediation to work out a compensation payment, or return to
the authority if they could not agree.
- By Rebecca Quilliam of APNZ