ERA upholds GE researcher's sacking for misconduct

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 24/01/2013

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The decision to sack a senior Manawatu scientist for serious misconduct in his genetically engineered plant research has been upheld by the Employment Relations Authority and welcomed by anti-GE lobbyists.

Dr Igor Kardailsky was fired from the Grasslands Research Institute in Palmerston North last year.

Grasslands comes under AgResearch's umbrella and Dr Kardailsky was conducting experiments with GE ryegrass plants.

He was on leave on May 24 when a colleague, Alicia Scott, emailed him to say the plants were flowering and needed to be cut back or bagged to prevent pollen spread.

The plants were grown in greenhouses but there are strict legislative controls governing GE research.

Ms Scott asked Dr Kardailsky to approve the proposed cutting or bagging and asked him to file a plan on preventing similar incidents. In his reply, Dr Kardailsky asked Ms Scott not to remove any of the flowering heads, saying he would look after them on his return.

But Ms Scott removed them, which upset Dr Kardailsky. "The only words that come to me to describe her behaviour are malicious, ignorant and bullying," Dr Kardailsky said of Ms Scott.

He also left a note for Ms Scott saying: "Don't touch my plants ever Alicia!!"

A disciplinary investigation began on May 30 and Dr Kardailsky was sacked on July 23. He believed his dismissal was unjust, but the Employment Relations Authority, in a judgment out yesterday, disagreed. "I am satisfied that summary dismissal was a disciplinary outcome which was available to a fair and reasonable employer in all the circumstances," authority member Michele Ryan said.

"Dr Kardailsky does not have a personal grievance and I decline to award remedies."

AgResearch had said Dr Kardailsky's "conduct was in breach of its internal policies and regulations associated with legislative controls".

Ms Ryan also rejected Dr Kardailsky's claims AgResearch's employment investigation was unfair and that there was "no substance" to the allegations against him.

Dr Kardailsky said there was a contradiction in controls governing his experiment.

He also argued that because he was on leave, he could not be held responsible for what happened. Ms Ryan disagreed.

GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment spokesman Jon Carapiet was pleased with the finding. Any risk to New Zealand's biosecurity could affect the country's reputation, he said. "It's good that they've taken this breach seriously."

Mr Carapiet was unimpressed at Dr Kardailsky's attitude, saying some scientists involved in such work had a myopic view about the risks it posed.

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AgResearch research director Professor Warren McNabb said the organisation was pleased the authority found in its favour.

"Dr Kardailsky breached our internal policies and regulations when he intentionally allowed genetically modified plants to flower without using the required controls. This was a breach we took extremely seriously, hence his dismissal."

Prof McNabb said staff working in areas like that of Dr Kardailsky were aware of the importance of protocols.

A Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman has previously said there was no suggestion any pollen had spread.

The ministry was satisfied with AgResearch's response. Dr Kardailsky could not be reached for comment.

- Manawatu Standard

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