Fired farm worker awarded $40k

Last updated 10:32 19/06/2013

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A dairy farm worker has been awarded more than $40,000 in lost wages after he was sacked for allegedly dehorning cattle without anaesthetic.

The Rainbow Falls Organic Farm in Northland fired farm manager Alan Rockell for "tipping" the horns of the dairy herd in May 2011 against his employer's wishes.

Allegations later arose of lost production, stock losses, neglected maintenance and equipment damage.

Rainbow Falls sought damages of $426,050 for lost production, stock losses and repairs, but this was declined.

Rockell was instead awarded wage arrears of $42,793 in the Employment Relations Authority ruling.

The authority took into account that Rockell did not take holidays or statutory holidays in the five years he was employed by Rainbow Falls.

Rockell said he tipped the horns to prevent further injury to other animals, rather than dehorn them. Veterinarian assistance was not called for and anaesthetic was not used.

Tipping is the removal of the insensitive end of a horn, whereas dehorning or debudding is the horn being removed down to hair level, which can cause an animal pain or distress if anaesthetics and sedatives are not used.

Veterinary evidence at the hearing referred to images of some of the tipped cattle as looking like they had been dehorned.

"Neither party appears to have turned their mind to the best method of resolving the horned-cattle dilemma," authority member Tania Tetitaha said.

Rainbow Falls director Allan McKenzie lived in Hong Kong and was not often at the farm, Rockwell lacked the skills to manage a horned dairy herd and Rainbow Falls had financial problems.

"It is inferred they may have lacked the financial ability to employ specialist advice on horned-herd management as a consequence," Tetitaha said in her ruling.

Instruction to not dehorn cattle was not reasonable in the circumstances, but that did not excuse Rockell's actions, the decision said.

Veterinarian evidence confirmed that having horned cattle within a dairy herd was unusual as ideally only dehorned animals should be bred.

A subsequent farm manager confirmed that organic farms were harder to manage than non-organic farms.

Rockwell and McKenzie disagreed over how injuries to other animals by horned cattle should be addressed.

At the time, Rainbow Falls had financial issues. Oral evidence from its accountants confirmed that at times Rockwell had to pay some accounts himself.

The process leading to dismissal was ruled defective. There were no concerns raised or investigation of the other allegations before dismissal, and there was no opportunity to respond to the concerns before dismissal.

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"These defects were not minor and did result in Mr Rockwell being treated unfairly," the ruling said.


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