Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Foreign worker felt discriminated against after being told: 'f*** off to your own country'

A Ukrainian dairy farm worker felt discriminated against after being called a "C***".
A Ukrainian dairy farm worker felt discriminated against after being called a "C***".

A Ukrainian dairy farm worker was called a c*** and told to "f*** off to your own country" by his former South Island employers when he left after a dispute about parental leave.

Taras Natalenko accepted a job offer with a different farm because he felt he was being discriminated against for being a migrant worker, including being refused time off when his wife was scheduled for an induced labour.

But the Employment Relations Authority dismissed his claims that he was unjustifiably disadvantaged during his employment, and refused him compensation when he took his complaint to the authority.

Mr Natalenko, a qualified veterinarian with dairy farm experience, was working on Nathan Hogg and Katy Griffin's Hokitika dairy farm on a one-year visa after they recruited him from Ukraine in 2014.

The working relationship started positively, but by November 2014, a month into the job, things started to deteriorate with disagreements on how work on the farm should be done.

By February last year, Mr Natalenko left to work at a neighbouring farm, and he emailed his former bosses to inform them he had requested a mediation meeting over money that had been withheld, and that among his claims he would be seeking compensation for their refusal to allow him parental leave when his wife went into hospital.

In response, Ms Griffin sent two abusive emails, one simply said: "You c***!!!"

The second read: "F*** off to your own country."

The money he was owed was then paid.

He complained to the ERA that he was unjustifiably disadvantaged in his employment by the couple's unreasonable denial of parental leave and sick leave, and by being discriminated against on the basis of his ethnic or national origins. He wanted $30,000 in compensation and an apology from the pair.

In a recently released decision, the ERA said it had no jurisdiction to order an apology, but said Ms Griffin had acknowledged that her emails "were inappropriate and regrets having sent them".

She told the authority that she had been "disappointed" with him for leaving after they had recruited him from Ukraine, and angry with him for going to work for their neighbour and not working out his notice period.

Mr Natalenko's suspicion of discrimination was partly prompted by Ms Griffin's offensive email, the authority said, adding it could "understand why [he] suspected discrimination".

However, it ruled there was no evidence of discrimination on ethnic or national grounds, and dismissed his claim.

The dispute began after Mr Natalenko was granted annual leave for the first two weeks of January 2015, with the plan that it was to coincide with the birth of his first child.

But when he returned to work on January 16, his wife had not given birth.

The next day, the Natalenkos were given an inducement date of January 19. But that same day Ms Griffin informed the worker that she and Mr Hogg were going to Nelson on January 19 and 20 to see the Black Caps play.

She refused to allow him paternity leave as there would be no one to look after the farm.

Mr Natalenko told the ERA it was "unreasonable" for Mr Hogg and Ms Griffin to "effectively ensure his wife would be left alone during her labour in hospital as they knew she and Mr Natalenko did not have any family in New Zealand".

He worked his usual hours, and managed to arrive at the hospital in time to see his daughter born on January 20.

When the couple returned from Nelson the next day, neither asked Mr Natalenko about whether the baby had been born, or how his wife was doing. He did not tell them about the birth.

The authority ruled that Mr Natalenko did not give the required notice in writing to request parental leave for the induced birth, and therefore Mr Hogg and Ms Griffin had not breached the law in their refusal.

The baby girl was flown to Christchurch Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit after it was discovered she had a cleft palate.

But when Mr Natalenko asked to take half a day's annual leave, and then sick leave, on February 3, in order to pick his wife and baby up from Hokitika Airport and take them to Greymouth Hospital, he was also refused.

However, they later agreed to allow him to leave work an hour early, on full pay, as long as he provided a medical certificate proving his daughter was ill.

The ERA said he was not disadvantaged in being refused leave, and the refusal was not in breach of his employment contract.

The initial refusal was "harsh", the authority said, but because the couple had changed their minds and allowed him to leave work early on full pay, he was not disadvantaged and the situation was "appropriately resolved".

However, it noted that Mr Hogg and Ms Griffin were not entitled to request a medical certificate in relation to his wife or daughter.

Following these disagreements, Mr Natalenko decided to take up an offer of work from a neighbouring farm and handed in his notice. But after informing Immigration New Zealand, which transferred his visa to his new employer, he was told by his immigration adviser he could no longer work for Mr Hogg and Ms Griffin.

Mr Natalenko said he understood this to mean he could not work out the remaining week of his notice period as he would be in breach of the law and his Immigration conditions, so he informed the owners on February 17 that it would be his last day of work.

The pair "were upset", and later that day there was an argument about when the Natalenko family should move out of their farm accommodation.

At between 5.35pm and 5.45pm, they were informed they had to be out of the house by 6pm.

However, the ERA did not find the employers at fault, despite saying that Mr Hogg "did originally give an unreasonably short time ... for clearing out the premises".

"Even if I found disadvantage to Mr Natalenko in that comment it was of a fleeting nature and greatly contributed to by his leaving that day without working out his notice period," the authority said.

"I accept that Mr Natalenko believed he was legally precluded from continuing to work ... however, he did not take reasonable steps to check the correctness of that view and did not take any steps to work out how he could work out his notice period and not leave the respondents in the lurch."

It ruled that both parties had breached the employment agreement, and "that is where things should lie".

- NZ Herald

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