Workers unfairly dismissed, ERA rules

Last updated 13:00 21/12/2012

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Four Brightwater Engineering workers who challenged their selection for redundancy have won their case, with the Employment Relations Authority ruling they were unjustifiably dismissed.

The authority has ordered the company to pay Brian Arrowsmith $18,224 for lost wages plus interest, $12,000 compensation, as well as $1519 to reimburse him for a holiday in Rarotonga he had to cancel, and $22.40 loss of KiwiSaver benefit.

Brightwater Engineers must also pay Stuart Arrowsmith $2700 lost wages plus interest and $12,000 compensation, Andrew Doocey $10,000 compensation, and Michael Colquhoun $8643 lost wages and $12,000 compensation.

Mr Doocey, a yardman, and the three other men who were fitters and welders, were made redundant in February 2010.

Represented by lawyer Anjela Sharma, they took their case to the authority, arguing that their dismissal for redundancy was procedurally and substantively unjustified.

Authority member Helen Doyle said she was satisfied there was a genuine redundancy situation as a result of the winding down of the Stockton project and concern that there were no significant projects to replace it.

Overall, 17 staff were made redundant, with 10 of those from the workshop.

However, Ms Doyle found that there was fundamental unfairness and a breach of good faith requirements with the process used by the company to select the four applicants for redundancy.

The workers had been presented with a skills matrix at a meeting on February 18 which scored their performance.

"There was also an element of predetermination because Brightwater simply relied on a skills matrix prepared some months earlier for the selection of employees for redundancy and were not genuinely prepared to make any changes to that matrix," she said.

She found that each had a personal grievance of unjustified dismissal and was entitled to remedies.

All four men now have other jobs.

Brian Arrowsmith said he believed they had been singled out because they were outspoken.

He had worked at the company for nearly 10 years, had more than 40 years in the industry working internationally for big-name companies such as Shell and on nuclear submarines, and trained the apprentices at Brightwater Engineering.

"I did my best and was a loyal worker and my reward was being stabbed in the back.

"I was given two hours' notice and sacked and told to leave immediately."

Mr Arrowsmith said he was glad they had won because he had felt slighted.

"The money was secondary, I was more wanting to get my name vindicated."

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The company had lost four good men, and there was an acute shortage of skilled tradesmen, he said.

"A lot of companies have got to think about what is happening with this drain of skilled workers overseas," he said.

Mr Arrowsmith said he had enjoyed working at Brightwater Engineering when it had a family atmosphere but it had changed over the years. "It became them and us."

He said there had been a lot of talk about companies not listening to workers, especially about safety.

"I think companies need to respect people and their input instead of putting them in the bad basket and getting rid of them."

A company spokesman was unavailable for comment.

- The Nelson Mail

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