Gisborne port firing justified

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 14:29 01/06/2012

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A senior employee at Gisborne's port who defaced a shipping document and was found to have bullied colleagues was justifiably dismissed, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has ruled.

Captain Robert Mitchell was dismissed in May 2010 by Eastland Group, where he had been marine operations manager.

He accepted that he had written on a passage plan, prepared by Eastland pilot Captain Charlie Jamieson,  for the sailing of the cargo ship Sea Sparkle.

Jamieson had partially completed the plan on a Friday afternoon, ahead of the sailing early on Sunday morning, leaving the document in the office.

After Jamieson left on Friday, co-worker Dean Craw saw Mitchell writing on the passage plan and allegedly muttering something like: "I'll teach this bastard a lesson", the ERA decision said.

Craw phoned Jamieson at home, warning him to check the passage plan.

When Jamieson did so he found Mitchell had written on it: "I must be kind to my boss and not set f***wit safety walla's on him when I know its wrong."

Jamieson thought Mitchell was trying to make him look like a fool in front of the ship's master, as normally the annotation by Mitchell would only have been found when Jamieson was doing the master/pilot exchange on the ship.

Jamieson told the ERA that the master of the Sea Sparkle was Chinese and, in his experience, Chinese masters were "very fastidious with paperwork and they take a dim view of untidy plans".

Mitchell said he thought Jamieson would see the message for what it was, a practical joke.

Mitchell had said the comment related to Jamieson allegedly reporting Mitchell to the health and safety officer about an accident.

In that incident in March 2010, Mitchell injured his back while climbing a pilot ladder to  board a ship, but did not report the incident within the required 24 hours, although he did report it .

The ERA found Jamieson had simply provided the author of an inquiry into the incident what amounted to local knowledge about the maritime aspects involved.

Clearly the incident with the passage plan had a context, the ERA decision said.

The ERA said it had little doubt the evidence presented to it disclosed that Mitchell did bully his colleagues, and the extent to which former colleagues had been traumatised by Mitchell's behaviour was quite extraordinary.

Jamieson's evidence was that Mitchell had offered him a job at Gisborne with the opportunity to get a pilot licence for the port.

By all accounts, the pilot training for Jamieson took "inordinately" longer than it ought to have, the ERA said.

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Mitchell had said Jamieson was simply not up to the task, while Jamieson's evidence was that he was effectively caught because he had bought a home in Gisborne and moved his family there.

It took more than three years for Jamieson to get the licence, with observers of the process believing that Mitchell was deliberately making it difficult for Jamieson to get his licence.

Eventually Jamieson became qualified with the help of a contract pilot from outside Poverty Bay.

- Fairfax Media

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