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Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a journalist based in Auckland.

Air NZ worker sacked for shooting spree comments

File photo / Richard Robinson
File photo / Richard Robinson

An Air New Zealand worker sacked for saying he would go on a shooting spree at work has failed to get his job back.

Shane Clarke was dismissed from his 10-year job as an aircraft loader at Wellington Airport last September after an investigation found his comments amounted to serious misconduct.

Mr Clarke, who had security clearance to work in a controlled airside area, allegedly made comments about bringing a gun to work on two occasions last June.

A witness to the first incident said Mr Clarke was upset with a new system that set out which jobs individual loaders could do, and had allegedly said he should maybe bring a gun to work.

Later in the day, a trainer said Mr Clarke became angry and said: "They will worry when I bring a gun to work."

Another witness said he heard Mr Clarke say: "I'm going to come back with a gun and shoot you all."

Mr Clarke was suspended on pay from June until September while an investigation was carried out.

Police were also notified and issued Mr Clarke with a warning.

At a disciplinary meeting in July, Mr Clarke said he had made the comments out of frustration and to lighten the mood, saying: "Maybe a shooting spree would sort it all out."

He said that was met with a round of laughter and a colleague had jokingly replied: "I'll make sure I'm far away when you do."

At the second incident, Mr Clarke accepted he had been frustrated and had raised his voice.

But he said he had not directed his comments at anyone, saying: "This is bullshit, I may as well just go get a gun and blow my head off."

Mr Clarke accepted he had not chosen the right words and apologised for what he had done.

Air New Zealand's investigation concluded Mr Clarke's comments were made in the form of a threat and amounted to serious misconduct.

The comments were highly inappropriate and Mr Clarke would have been aware of the high sensitivity around safety and security matters in the airline industry.

Mr Clarke took his case to the Employment Relations Authority, arguing the investigation into the incidents took too long and had not taken into account the culture of jokes in the workplace.

Authority member Greg Wood found while Mr Clarke's length of suspension was not ideal, the investigation was not unduly long as there were issues contacting a number of witnesses.

He accepted there was a culture of jokes in the workplace and Mr Clarke had no intention of carrying out his threats, but said his comments were made in a serious manner.

Mr Wood found Mr Clarke's misconduct was particularly serious in the security conscious environment of the aviation industry and his dismissal was justified.

Costs were reserved.

- APNZ

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