Drama trust ordered to pay ex-employee redundancy
Wellington drama trust Te Rakau has been ordered to pay a former employee almost $40,000 after she was made redundant following a Child, Youth and Family investigation into the organisation.
Aperira Hohepa-Smale, who worked as the trust's services director from the end of 2009, was awarded the money after the Employment Relations Authority ruled she had not been paid the redundancy compensation due in her contract.
In a decision released this week, member Greg Wood said problems began in 2010 when CYF raised problems with the trust, which it contracted to provide fulltime care for troubled children.
By December that year, CYF and police began full investigations after several allegations of physical abuse made by children. No charges were laid against anyone associated with the trust.
But in March 2011, CYF told the trust it still had serious concerns after its investigation, and police again became involved.
Ms Hohepa-Smale began her own investigation, determined to find out what was happening, but was told in a letter to all staff and at a staff meeting that she was to stop immediately, as her actions could prejudice the formal inquiries.
In June last year, the contract with CYF was suspended and Ms Hohepa-Smale was made redundant.
Mr Wood dismissed her claim of breach of contract and disadvantage, but ruled the trust owed her $39,038 in redundancy payments.
Speaking to The Dominion Post, actor and director Jim Moriarty, who is heavily involved with the trust, said the contract with CYF had not been lost because of the investigation. The trust had decided to withdraw, to concentrate on theatre rather than childcare, he said.
"We relinquished our services, it wasn't lost. What actually happened was in the end we withdrew from the contract. It wasn't shut down, we voluntarily withdrew."
Paying $40,000 to Ms Hohepa-Smale would not be financially viable and the trust's board would decide the next step, he said.
But CYF general manager of operations Marama Edwards said the contract was not renewed as the trust was unable to take the necessary steps to make the programme safe.
CYF had removed all young people from the trust's care in June last year. The contract decision was not taken lightly, as the two organisations had worked together for some time, she said. "The proper care and safety of young people in our custody is our paramount concern and we cannot place them at risk."
Ms Hohepa-Smale could not be contacted yesterday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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