Talley's workers get payout over drug search

Fishing company Talley's has been ordered to pay two employees more than $70,000 after it was found to have sacked them unfairly following a random drug search before a fishing trip.

Damien Burtton and Karl Browne said they were unjustifiably dismissed after the company investigated their alleged drug use.

In two separate Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decisions released today, the dismissal of the men last year was found to be "substantively and procedurally unjustified".

A specialist drug dog took interest in their luggage while they and other crew of Talley's MV Enterprise were preparing to sail last May.

The two men denied any involvement in drug use on the vessel.

Mr Burtton was suspended while the company investigated, then faced allegations at a disciplinary meeting that he had been seen using methamphetamine at sea and had supplied the drug to young female crew members.

Talley's dismissed him in June after he responded to the drug and dishonesty allegations.

In Mr Browne's case, Talley's had statements from other crew members who said they had seen him take drugs. He denied the allegations but failed to provide a proper explanation.

Facing the probability of dismissal, he chose to resign.

ERA member Rachel Lamer said in today's decisions that while Talley's had grounds to be concerned about drug use on its vessels its investigation was "seriously defective".

In Mr Burtton's case, the company was "improperly influenced by unreliable hearsay and by unsubstantiated gossip and rumours", she said.

As for Mr Browne: "at no point were Talley's actions (those of a) fair and reasonable employer", she said.

"The way Talley's treated Mr Browne was extremely unfair. It accused him of misconduct amounting to serious criminal offending, but failed to provide specific details of its allegations."

Mr Burtton was awarded a total of $54,097 plus any outstanding catch bonuses, while Mr Browne was awarded $20,000 plus lost wages and benefits.

Talley's was fined $2500 for breach of good faith.

NZPA