Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Farm workers unfairly dismissed, discrimination claim not upheld

Two farm workers were paid out after an unfair dismissal claim was upheld by the ERA. Photo/Christine Cornege
Two farm workers were paid out after an unfair dismissal claim was upheld by the ERA. Photo/Christine Cornege

Two farm workers who were dismissed before even starting work have had an unfair dismissal claim upheld, but a further claim of sexual discrimination was thrown out.

Brooke Dryden and Jazmin Watson were due to start work milking cows in Balclutha for Mason Dairies Limited when Matthew Mason dismissed the pair on September 4 last year, after he alleged they had not turned up for work.

According to Dryden's evidence in the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), during initial employment negotiations the two women had discussed taking time off to obtain a WINZ grant in order to buy some essentials, and attend a funeral in Dunedin, which she said Mason had agreed to.

She said Mason had not discussed them starting work that week, but Mason told the ERA he had talked about it.

Dryden alleged that at no point had Mason told her or Watson that they had been required to have started work and that she had not been to the milking shed, or been shown around the farm yet, and was not aware of what her duties were.

Mason said his understanding was the pair would start work and be trained on the Wednesday.

He told the ERA he attempted to contact the pair to discuss why they hadn't shown up.

His explanation for the dismissal was that he could not employ someone who had made no effort to turn up to work.

Dryden's employment agreement included a 90 day trial period however it was argued that this was invalid because it was unfairly bargained for, and she was dismissed prior to starting work when the trial period would begin.

The ERA said the evidence given by Mason in his affidavit made it clear he had dismissed the pair without undertaking any kind of process and ruled the dismissal was unjustified.

The ERA ordered Mason to pay lost wages, compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings and other costs totalling $16,709.20 for Dryden and $25,914.20 for Watson.

Sexual discrimination claim thrown out

Both Dryden and Watson also claimed they were discriminated against based on their sex. Dryden described the initial interview as "all kind of weird and creepy".

Dryden told the ERA Mason sent her a text message asking if they wanted to have a drink at the house, but Mason denied that is what the message said. Dryden said she didn't discuss why they hadn't shown up to work because she thought his intention was to try and sleep with one or both of them.

Mason said he had asked to see them to find out why they had not started work, not to drink with him and that he had his partner and son at home with him. The discrimination claim was not upheld.

Read the full decision here:

- NZ Herald

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