Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Fonterra workers reinstated after Harlem Shake

Two Fonterra workers sacked for doing the Harlem Shake at work have won their jobs back.

Henry Taufua, a packer and robot operator, and Craig Flynn, a filling machine operator, were dismissed after Fonterra discovered two videos uploaded to YouTube.

It showed the men and other employees re-enacting their version of the Harlem Shake - the popular online dance craze - at Fonterra's Takanini plant.

They appealed against the company's decision to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), which today released its decision ordering their temporary interim reinstatement pending a substantive hearing.

Fonterra had submitted that Mr Taufua "rode a paper trolley or pallet jack in an unsafe manner endangering himself and others and failed to report unsafe acts by other employees", the ERA decision said.

In regard to Mr Flynn, it submitted he put himself and others at risk of harm by organising the videos, "dancing with a shovel between his legs, hosing water where another employee was dancing and splashing a pallet endangering himself and others".

However, this was contradicted by the video.

"It shows Mr Taufua and Mr Flynn wearing hairnets. All employees are initially shown wearing hairnets and other headgear. In the second part of the video, with the exception of two employees with a blue bucket and yellow bucket on their heads, all employees appear to be wearing hairnets or head gear."

Fonterra argued that the men's conduct breached the company's code of conduct and health and safety policies, and constituted serious misconduct.

The ERA disagreed.

"Their individual actions do not seem factually similar to the facts alleged in the respondent's[Fonterra's] authorities. Hosing an area of floor then cleaning the water up prior to employees dancing around indicates preventative steps to ensure employee safety. Falling or tipping the paper trolley may have resulted in minimal (if any) injury or damage or none at all.

"Neither of the applicants conduct necessarily had the potential for the serious injury contemplated in the respondent's authorities."

Prior to the video incident, there had been no evidence of concerns about the men's performance or conduct.

"The alleged detrimental effect upon employees of reinstatement and Fonterra's credibility upon health and safety is speculative, and insufficient to weigh the balance of convenience in its favour," the ERA said.

It ordered the men's temporary reinstatement to their jobs until a substantive hearing.

Peter McClure, managing director Fonterra Brands New Zealand, said: "This matter continues to be investigated by the Employment Relations Authority. As a result, we are unable to comment.''

- APNZ

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