Sealord has been ordered to pay more than $80,000 to a Nelson fisherman who was unjustifiably dismissed.
Aaron Pickering, who worked as the bosun on the Will Watch, fishing out of Port Louis, Mauritius, lost his job in September 2010.
He challenged that decision in an Employment Relations Authority case that centred on whether he was an independent contractor or employed by Sealord.
ERA member Christine Hickey has determined he was an employee of Sealord, that he was unjustifiably dismissed and that the company must pay him $71,973 in lost wages, plus 5 per cent interest on that from April 1 last year, and $8000 compensation.
Sealord Group, represented by advocate Justine O'Connell, maintained it provided the payroll and other services to another company in the group, United Fame Investments, which operates the Will Watch.
Sealord argued that because Mr Pickering was an independent contractor, it was able to end his engagement with United Fame as it did in 2010 and that the ERA had no jurisdiction to consider his claims because he was an independent contractor.
Mr Pickering, represented by Nelson lawyer Anjela Sharma, challenged that.
Ms Hickey noted that no written agreement existed between Mr Pickering and United Fame, and he had no direct dealing with United Fame in his work.
Sealord administered his pay, paid his PAYE, ACC levies and his air travel between New Zealand and Mauritius. Evidence given at the hearing showed Sealord, as a measure to distance itself from Will Watch, sold the fishing vessel to United Fame Investments, a Hong Kong company, that was part of Kura Group which owns Sealord. This was because as a leading orange roughy expert Sealord wanted to protect its fishing areas in a competitive industry.
In 2001 Will Watch was sold to United Fame Investments (Cook Island) Ltd and remains flagged in the Cook Islands. All shares in that company were transferred to Sealord in 2009.
Ms Hickey found that Mr Pickering was an employee of Sealord alone, and not jointly with United Fame.
Sealord considered that Mr Pickering had passed on information about its fishing areas to a competitor, which he denied, and it had concerns about his performance. But he said nobody had raised problems about his work prior to his dismissal.
Ms Hickey said she had a number of concerns about the lack of fair process prior to Mr Pickering's dismissal and overall she did not consider he was treated fairly by Sealord.
"I consider that the decision to dismiss Mr Pickering was not one that a fair and reasonable employer would have made in all the circumstances the decision to dismiss was made. That is sufficient for me to conclude that Mr Pickering has a personal grievance that he was unjustifiably dismissed from his employment with Sealord and is entitled to remedies."
Mr Pickering said he had decided to challenge his dismissal "just to say to them you cannot do that", and he was stoked with the decision.
Sealord said it was getting advice on the ruling.
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