Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Meat worker claims she was fired due to ethnicity

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A meat worker who claimed to have been unfairly dismissed when an injury she suffered at work prevented her from doing her job has had her personal grievance dismissed by the Employment Relations Authority.

Adebimpe George, who is of Nigerian descent, further claimed that she was dismissed by Silver Fern Farms on the basis of her ethnicity, given that another employee whose fingers were amputated at work was given another job.

The authority (ERA) dismissed this claim.

Mrs George began working as a meat packer for the company in March 2008 and a few months later suffered an injury to her wrist.

She claimed that she had not been properly trained in the use of knives and it was because of this that she was injured.

However, she did not raise a personal grievance at the time and therefore this could not be considered by the ERA.

The injury continued to cause her problems, and she had to have two operations - in 2010 and 2011.

Her hand surgeon said she should not undertake work involving highly repetitive hand movements, so she was given a range of temporary clerical positions.

The authority heard that everybody had been impressed with the standard of her work. However, the company could not find a suitable permanent position and Mrs George was given notice of the termination of her employment in August 2012.

She argued that because the company was responsible for causing her the injury by not providing adequate training it was also responsible for giving her a job.

Mrs George argued that non-African workers, all of whom were of New Zealand descent, had suffered injuries of a similar or worse nature than her's, but had been able to continue to carry out light duties.

In one case, another worker who had some of his fingers amputated by a saw had been given another job.

The only reason she could think of that this man had been given work but she had not was on the grounds of her ethnicity, Mrs George said.

The company said, and the ERA agreed, that this was not the case and it was because the man had been able to work as a packer - work that Mrs George was not able to do because of her injury.

"There was a material difference not based on prohibited grounds between the two employees,'' the authority found.

''[The man's] injury did not preclude him from carrying out a core duty required by the respondent (namely, packing) whereas Mrs George's injury did. That, I conclude, is the reason for the difference in treatment between the two employees; not Mrs George's colour, race, ethnic or national origins.''

The authority found that Silver Fern Farms had acted as a fair and reasonable employer.

- APNZ

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