Man ‘treated shabbily’ by employer awarded $16K

A Bluff worker has been awarded $16,000 in compensation after his unjustified dismissal, saying it was demoralising, affected him deeply and caused his family suffering as a result.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) determined Sean Mathieson was unjustifiably disadvantaged due to the way a restructuring of Harbour Fish Ltd was carried out.

In a report, ERA member David Beck said Mr Mathieson was "treated shabbily" by his employer.

Mr Mathieson worked for Urwin & Company Ltd, a Bluff fish processing business, for 20 years.

The company was sold to Harbour Fish Ltd, which agreed to enter into a variation of Mr Mathieson’s current agreement in November 2018.

"It was accepted that Mr Mathieson was a key employee by this time with duties beyond what his job description indicated ... [he] had been running the ‘business’ side of Urwin’s enterprise for some years due to health issues a director was experiencing," the report said.

When the company was sold, Mr Mathieson was offered ongoing employment from May 1, 2019, in a letter stating "[y]our employment with Harbour Fish is intended to be on the same or similar terms as your previous employment, but your employment will not be continuous".

He reported to Dunedin-based managing director Aaron Cooper, who conceded that almost immediately after employing him Harbour Fish transferred some of his tasks to its Dunedin office, significantly reducing the scope of Mr Mathieson’s role.

In July 2019 it was indicated Mr Mathieson’s role would be disestablished in September.

No offer was made, meaning he could formally apply for the new role, and he sought legal advice.

On August 23, Mr Mathieson raised a personal grievance, saying he had been unjustifiably dismissed and disadvantaged.

"Mr Mathieson described the impact on him of the restructuring process leading to an understandable loss of self-esteem and feeling of worthlessness and de-motivation."

Mr Beck found Harbour Fish did not act in a fair and reasonable manner and that the redundancy process was flawed.

"I accept that HFL ‘inherited’ Urwin’s employees and had little knowledge of the functionality and staffing structure of the Bluff operation but I observe that does not excuse the lack of due diligence they failed to undertake when agreeing to employ Mr Mathieson and others."

Harbour Fish was ordered to pay Mr Mathieson $16,000.

 

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