Talley's crew cleared over drugs

Two fishing boat crew members who took on Talley's Group after losing their jobs over unsubstantiated drug claims have won and cleared their names.

Talley's Group will have to pay Damien Burtton, and Karl Browne thousands of dollars after the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ruled they were unjustifiably dismissed.

Company director Andrew Talley said employment law was out of touch with the growth and extent of drug use in the workplace, and the company would continue to do what was necessary to keep the vessels drug-free.

A year ago the deep sea fishing vessel Amaltal Enterprise was due to sail from Nelson when a drug search dog singled out the bags of six crew, including Mr Burtton, 26, and Mr Browne, 30.

Talley's had engaged private investigator Derek Milne to investigate its concerns about drug use on the Enterprise.

After being interviewed, Mr Burtton was indefinitely suspended without pay and escorted off the vessel. The only contact he had from Talley's while suspended was a disciplinary letter. His disciplinary meeting was held on June 23 last year and he was dismissed by letter two days later.

Mr Browne, from Auckland, also suspended without pay, ended up having his disciplinary hearing without his representative present and was given the option of resigning or being dismissed for serious drug-related misconduct.

Mr Browne said he reluctantly resigned because he believed he had no other option as he could not afford to stay in Nelson and fly back down again from Auckland.

Allegations against him including using P. The ERA decision noted he had asked to be drug tested twice but this was declined.

ERA member Rachel Larmer said the explanation Tony Hazlett, general manager of Talley's deep sea division, gave for suspending Mr Browne and another crew member was unsatisfactory.

She said: "He said 'we heard people naming them as P users, using P to sleep with people and we had the dog indication'. Talley's never had any evidence alleging Mr Browne or [another crew member] has used P to sleep with people, so it was unfair and misleading for him to suggest it did."

She found 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. It gave him no information about its concerns.

"Its actions deprived him of his right to representation. It failed to properly investigate its concerns. It failed to ask obvious questions of its witnesses and made no attempt to follow up obvious lines of inquiry, despite having engaged the services of a private investigator.

"It approached the matter with a closed mind. It breached its contractual obligations. It breached its good faith obligations. It failed to comply with the principles of natural justice."

THE DECISION

Employment Relations Authority findings:Talley's Group unjustifiably disadvantaged and unjustifiably dismissed Karl Browne and is ordered to pay him $20,000 compensation, plus lost pay and benefits, and to pay a penalty to the Crown of $2500 for breaching good faith obligations. Talley's unjustifiably disadvantaged and unjustifiably dismissed Damien Burtton, breached its good faith obligations, and is ordered to pay him $35,697 in lost pay and yet to be quantified lost benefits, plus $18,400 compensation.

The Nelson Mail