Carter Holt wrong to drug test workers

SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 14:01 04/06/2014

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A sawmill operator was not justified making almost 200 employees undergo drug tests after two cannabis plants were found, the Employment Relations Authority has found.

Seventy-six employees of Carter Holt Harvey's Eves Valley Sawmill in Nelson, who were also members of the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), complained to the authority (ERA) about the drug tests.

In a decision released today, the authority found the employees were unjustifiably disadvantaged in being compelled to take the drug tests, and Carter Holt Harvey breached its duty of good faith to them.

On March 7, 2013, the cannabis plants were found growing in the grounds outside the sawmill buildings and site manager Darryn Adams ordered all employees to undergo a reasonable-cause drug test, the ERA report said.

In the following days about 190 employees, including managers, were subjected to urine tests.

When the tests began, a union delegate contacted the EPMU area organiser, George Hollinsworth, who phoned Adams and said the union considered the testing would be in breach of the drug and alcohol policy, as it was neither random nor testing for reasonable cause.

Adams eventually agreed to stop testing so a meeting with Hollinsworth and union delegates could be held.

They told Adams the union did not believe the situation fell within the reasonable-cause category, and that he didn't have the right to test all of the staff in relation to the discovery of the plants.

One employee was found to have a non-negative test, but there was no suggestion he planted the marijuana plants, the authority said.

Carter Holt Harvey said it was justified in testing the employees in the way it did because it was reasonable to assume that whoever planted the marijuana worked at the sawmill.

It conceded the testing was not in strict accordance with its policy and procedures, but said it was motivated "by a strong desire to protect its employees, and so the testing was justified".

Reasonable-cause testing in the collective agreement required evidence to suspect an individual employee was affected by drugs before deciding to test. It applied to individual employees and not to a whole shift or whole workforce, the authority said.

The ERA received evidence from five of the applicants - four men and one woman. Many felt they were under suspicion, and it was also commonly felt that providing a urine specimen was invasive.

Employment Relations Authority member Christine Hickey upheld the complaints.

"That was to their disadvantage not only because giving a urine sample in an employment setting is invasive and compromising of an employee's dignity and privacy, but particularly because the requirement was not in line with any of their terms of conditions of their employment," she said.

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This negatively affected the necessary relationship of trust between employer and employee.

The applicants wanted $2500 each and $20,000 as a penalty for breaches of good faith, but Hickey said as the employment relationship was ongoing it was more suitable for the parties to make efforts to agree on the amount of compensation payable to the applicants than for her to make orders.

She directed the parties to mediation to set the amount of compensation.

- Stuff

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