A pensioner who drove a pub's courtesy van for years was sacked by text message and told he was not really an employee but just a lonely "volunteer".
Peter Johnson, 72, drove the courtesy van of the Marquis of Normanby Hotel in Carterton from 2008, when the pub was owned by Michael Shale, until January 2013, when new owner Ramesh Dayal instructed a manager to tell him his "services were no longer required".
Johnson claimed unpaid wages and compensation for unfair dismissal from the company that owns the pub, NZL Marquis Ltd, of which Dayal is the sole director.
The company argued that, even though it trusted Johnson to keep the van at his home, lock up and open the pub and do stocktakes, he did not really work there. Instead, he was a lonely, elderly "volunteer" who hung around for company.
Dayal is also a former director of Power Jaber Investments, which in about 2000 was involved in a multimillion-dollar poker machine deal with the New Zealand Rugby League.
Johnson said his former employer's wealth meant he did not take the case seriously. "He thought I would walk away, he's got all the money."
Dayal paid him $50 "koha" for each shift, but never gave him an employment contract, despite repeated requests, Johnson said.
Police officers who testified to the Employment Relations Authority said Johnson had a responsible attitude about the safety of hotel patrons and they assumed he worked there.
Johnson said he worked hard, not because he was lonely but because hotel staff kept asking him to.
"I'd get a call, you've got to come and deal with stock, you've got to put the frozen food away, you've got to pick up a customer . . . I was knackered, I'd fall asleep [waiting] in the van."
Feeling badly treated, Johnson contacted the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Dayal found out, took the van keys from him and told a manager to dismiss him, which he did by text.
In a decision released yesterday, ERA member Paul Stapp found Johnson was a regular, on-call casual employee, not a volunteer. Even though there was no written contract, he was regularly paid as part of the business, the courtesy van was an integral part of the operation, there were regular work days, and he answered to a manager.
He found the dismissal was unjustified and awarded Johnson a total of just under $5000.
Johnson said justice had been done but he felt he was owed more.
Dayal said he accepted the decision but declined to comment further.
- The Dominion Post