Boss ok to fire workers after punch-up

NICOLE PRYOR
Last updated 12:31 02/12/2013

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Two Whakatane kiwifruit pickers fired after a violent punchup with their boss's son were justifiably dismissed, the Employment Relations Authority says.

Ricky and Tony Tiopira were hired as kiwifruit pickers and pruners by a company called Aulack in April 2012, on a farm owned and operated by Murray Brown, Marie Brown, and their son, Michael Brown.

One morning in September, the Tiopiras arrived at work, and lowered an electric tape gate before driving onto the farm.

Michael Brown saw them lower the tape and took exception, as it was about 50 metres from the milking shed, where passing cows could stray into the wrong paddock.

In a statement to police, Brown said he yelled to the Tiopiras: "wait for the f...... cows, man."

Brown said Tony Tiopira responded, saying "get f..... you bald head c..., you f...... honky".

However, Tony Tiopira said that as he was about to lower the tape, he had heard Brown "yelling and swearing" at him from the cowshed.

Tony Tiopira said he yelled back, saying Brown should come over and talk to him "like a human being".

A fight then started. Brown said Tony Tiopira jumped on him, and Ricky Tiopira "got right into my face and was going apes...."

Brown said he tried to walk away, when Ricky Tiopira jump kneed him in the forehead above his left eye, then headbutted him in the forehead.

Marie Brown saw this happening, and phoned her husband but could not make contact.

Brown called his father's cellphone and told him to bring his guns.

Before his father arrived on the scene, Brown said he could remember Ricky and Tony Tiopira on either side of him, punching him in the head.

Michael Brown was diagnosed with concussion at the local hospital, and an osteopath said he had whiplash.

Ricky Tiopira told the ERA Brown had grabbed him by the collar as he tried to get out of the car and started punching him upwards into his jaw.

Tony Tiopira said Brown king-hit Ricky Tiopira on the left side of his head, so he threw two punches to Brown's head.

The managing director of the company, Hardeep Singh, listened to the version of events, and sent a letter to the Tiopiras to inform them of a disciplinary meeting, which could result in them being fired.

The Tiopiras claimed they did not get the letters, and then failed to show up for the meeting, despite Singh saying he had sent it to the right address.

On the day of the disciplinary meeting, Singh tried to call the Tiopiras on their landline and mobile phone numbers several times, with no response.

Then after several days of no contact from the Tiopiras, Singh sent a letter to them both, saying they had been fired.

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The Tiopiras said they never received this dismissal letter, nor the letter inviting them to the disciplinary meeting.

They claimed their dismissal was unjustifiable, because they never had a chance to be heard and to respond to the employer before the decision was made.

ERA member Kenneth Anderson said the dismissals were justifiable, and also dismissed the company's counterclaim for $30,000 in damages, due to damaged reputation.

- Fairfax Media

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