Manager awarded $40,000 after personal grievance

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File Photo / Richard Robinson
File Photo / Richard Robinson

A former meat company general manager has been awarded more than $40,000 by the Employment Relations Authority after he filed a personal grievance against the Wanganui company.

Michael Rowe brought the case against Land Meat New Zealand, owned by Affco Meats, after he was employed as general manager of the plant from December 2008 to May 2011.

Over this period he was employed under three fixed term contracts.

The conflict arose when the management of Land Meat was taken over by Affco and the general manager's position was disestablished.

Authority member Trish MacKinnon found that while the loss of Mr Rowe's position of general manager was a genuine redundancy, proper procedures under employment law were not followed resulting in an unfair dismissal.

The company relied on the end of a fixed term contract to end Mr Rowe's employment, not formal redundancy procedures.

Mr Rowe had been employed in a series of fixed term contracts which often ended without a new one being put in place.

The last was discussed at a meeting on December 7, 2010.

On December 6 Mr Rowe was told by email that one of the points to be raised at the meeting was a review of his position and "future contract discussions". Mr Rowe said this was the first mention of employment terms since his contract had expired five months earlier. At the meeting on December 7, Mr Rowe was told he would be employed on a fixed term contract for another six months and it would be the last.

Redundancy was not discussed. The employment agreement was signed on December 15 and Mr Rowe left after it expired on May 27.

The court said the company should have told Mr Rowe his employment was at risk as soon as it was aware there was a real possibility the general manager role would be disestablished. A contract from January 13, 2010 did have a new clause which stated integration of Land Meat into Affco could mean changes to the general manager position. Land Meat chief executive at the time Hamish Simson said he told Mr Rowe of "intention to examine management structures" between the two companies.

Mr Rowe did not recall the discussion.

The court found that once the company knew about the change, a reasonable period of consultation would have been one month, followed by a notice period of three months.

Land Meat acknowledged in court that the third and final fixed term agreement did not contain reasons for employment ending after six months and failed to follow employment law.

However it said the agreement was entered into voluntarily with informed consent on both parties. It argued there was a "genuine reason based on reasonable grounds for the fixed term".

Mr Rowe was awarded $8000 in compensation, four months of his annual salary of $145,656, plus four months' holiday, company car and health insurance benefits, minus any salary earned in the same four month period. The hearing was in Wanganui on March 1.

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