Sacked meat company boss awarded $100k

By Ben Chapman-Smith

The ex-boss of a meat company was accused of instigating the practice of switching ear tags from dead calves to live ones. Photo / Sandy Parkinson
The ex-boss of a meat company was accused of instigating the practice of switching ear tags from dead calves to live ones. Photo / Sandy Parkinson

An Invercargill meat company has been ordered to pay its former chief executive more than $100,000 in unpaid bonuses, compensation and other costs.

Russell Brocks worked as head of Prime Range Meats Limited from May 2008 until August 2010, when he was sacked after a number of serious allegations stemming back to November 2009.

The company's allegations included claims that Brocks had instigated an illegal practice at the meat company of switching ear tags from dead bobby calves to live ones.

Brocks took his dispute to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) in Christchurch, which agreed he had been unjustifiably dismissed and was also owed bonus pay.

ERA member Helen Doyle said the ear tag issue and other allegations had not been dealt with in a way that was "fair and reasonable".

Brocks was awarded a bonus of $88,276 and interest on that amount, which had not been paid because his performance had been called into question.

Prime Range was also ordered to pay Brocks $8600 in lost wages, $540 in holiday pay, $655 towards his superannuation, and interest on those amounts. He was also awarded $6000 in compensation.

The ERA heard that Prime Range managing director Anthony Forde had become concerned with Brocks' performance by November 2009.

He felt that a "management crisis" was developing and a number of meetings were held to discuss Brocks' employment, starting in May 2010.

One of the key issues raised was around the practice of ear tags being taken from dead calves at the meat company and put on calves that had no ear tags.

Under New Zealand Food Safety Authority rules, calves which arrive to be slaughtered without ear tags cannot be processed for human consumption.

Prime Range alleged Brocks had instigated the illegal practice, that he did nothing to stop it, and had failed to investigate it properly.

Brocks denied the allegations and said he had sent an email to the slaughter board supervisor asking that it stop when he first found out about it in November 2009.

Prime Range accused Brock of falsifying company records to show he had issued warnings, when he had not done so.

In response to the allegation, Brocks said he was "pretty sure" the records had been fabricated but denied doing so himself.

Prime Range also accused Brocks of paying a commission payment to his partner, and of downloading "highly confidential information" from the company onto his computer.

He was advised to take annual leave and then formally sacked on August 25, 2010.

ERA member Helen Doyle said requiring Brocks to take annual leave rather than being suspended on full pay amounted to "unjustifiable disadvantage".

Brocks was "considerably humiliated" by the company when he refused to take annual leave, she said.

While the allegations made about Brocks brought into question his ability to perform as chief executive, Prime Range had not acted fairly in the way it raised the issues with him, she said.

In assessing all the information, she said Brocks' failings did not demonstrate dishonesty but "poor judgement".

"I do not find that a fair and reasonable employer would have summarily dismissed Mr Brocks in all the circumstances at the time the dismissal took place."

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