Consumer watchdog: Get off grass, mower told

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

CUTTING TIES: Jon Cook is in dispute with Green Acres. Photo / Rob Tucker
CUTTING TIES: Jon Cook is in dispute with Green Acres. Photo / Rob Tucker

Green Acres crosses blades with franchisee over pay rates.

Green Acres is demanding $27,000 from a lawn mower who cut ties with the company after claiming the Taranaki area manager had a secret "contra" deal with one of his customers.

Jon Cook had mown the customer's lawn for $45 each time over eight months. He said the job took 1 hours, leaving him earning little after petrol and other expenses were deducted.

When he tried to put the price up by $5, Cook said the customer told him there was an agreement with the Taranaki Green Acres area manager in which he'd arranged discounted rates in exchange for letting her horses graze on the farm. Green Acres denied there was any such deal.

"I was livid. It was just unbelievable," Cook said.

Last year, the Herald on Sunday reported 40 Auckland-based Green Acres franchisees had quit the company over a combination of factors, including revelations of ironing franchisees being defrauded by a master franchisee.

In the latest case, Cook called in his lawyer after hearing of the contra deal, adding he believed many of his customers had been given heavily discounted deals. He cited several cases where clients had been told their lawns would be mown for as little as $25. His contract stated he could not refuse work, so he was left collecting just $29 for an hour's work at times.

His lawyer wrote to the national manager to cancel the contract. "The Green Acres lawyers wrote back saying they didn't recognise my right to cancel and therefore they were terminating me. That came with a bill for $12,000," Cook said. The figure grew to $27,000, to include liquidated damages and GST.

Green Acres public relations adviser Alan Botica said confidentiality meant he could not discuss the case. Mediation, held three weeks ago, failed and the company was preparing to file a civil law suit against Cook.

"Green Acres is seeking damages for breach of contract and theft of intellectual property and know-how," Botica said.

"Mr Cook unilaterally terminated his contract after less than 12 months, yet continues to provide services to Green Acres customers using Green Acres systems. The company will seek a restraint of trade against Mr Cook to prevent him servicing Green Acres customers."

Cook has launched his own company, Mr Mow Taranaki.

He said his experience was strained from the start. Issues included being supplied with ill-fitting uniforms and not receiving operations manuals.

He also alleged he was left uninsured for two months because he was not registered with the broker and was never given proper training. He also said he was promised an established round of 70-80 regular jobs, but got just 57.

"I'm sick and tired of it," Cook said. "A lot of people aren't that clued up and are easily intimidated. Not me. I'm going to fight this."

Cook laid a complaint with the Franchisees Association last week and has met his local MP to discuss his case.

- Herald on Sunday

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