Ex-Unitec worker wins $33k compensation

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 15:02 11/12/2012

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A former Unitec department head has won $33,000 in compensation after he was fired for publicly questioning the standards of a new plumbing apprenticeship.

Garry Cruickshank took his case to the Employment Court where Judge Graeme Colgan ruled the former head of plumbing and gasfitting at Unitec had been unjustifiably dismissed.

Judge Colgan said Cruickshank and his employer became engaged in a fierce battle over the quality of proposed plumbing courses, which resulted in the department head's sacking.

He said the issue between both parties concerned a matter of public safety, as the training of plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers was "of the utmost importance''.

"A number of people involved in, or affected by these activities die or are seriously injured from foul water backflows, exploding water cylinders and explosions and fires caused by faulty gas installations."

The judge did not rule on the issue that sparked the confrontation in which Cruickshank alleged the Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying Industry Training Organisation knowingly created a substandard course.

Cruickshank was dismissed by Unitec because Unitec considered that letters he wrote to employers about his concerns were incorrect and or misleading. The court found that the letters were not incorrect.

"What Mr Cruickshank did for which he was dismissed, was a bold and risky challenge to what he sincerely believed was Unitec's unacceptable lowering of standards in the training and, therefore, qualification of plumbing and gasfitting apprentices," the judge said.

He said Unitec had not acted properly by dismissing Cruickshank, saying a fair and reasonable employer would have investigated the serious allegations fully and fairly.

Judge Colgan ordered Unitec pay Cruickshank $25,000 in lost pay, plus $8000 in compensation for unjustified disadvantage.

Other remedies, including reinstatement, would be considered at further hearings.

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