A cruise ship engineer has been awarded nearly $45,000 after being sacked for sharing emails which expressed concern about practices on the vessel, which had previously experienced an on-board explosion.
Stuart Hurst worked as a senior service engineer on the 261m Sea Princess from February 2014 as an employee of marine engineering company Wartsila New Zealand Limited. This company's sole shareholder is Wartsila Australia [WAU], which in turn is part of the Wartsila Corporation.
According to an Employment Relations Authority decision, released yesterday, Hurst, who was based out of Nelson, had concerns about the support he had received from the company, the manner in which work was carried out and certain mechanical failures.
On one occasion he prepared a list of equipment that was required but this was not organised, so he had to collect it himself.
"During one trip when Mr Hurst went to obtain materials, a tourist bus hit the taxi he was in. This caused an injury to him," the ERA decision said.
On another occasion, he complained that liquid nitrogen required for work he was doing either leaked out during the voyage or was low on stock. Again, Hurst had to source the substance himself.
"When the Sea Princess departed from Brisbane on 16 February 2014, a diesel generator failed. A large explosion occurred and various critical alarms were activated. This resulted in one of the engines having to be shut down," the decision said.
The decision said it was against this background that Hurst chose to express his frustrations and concerns through various emails, including a response to a senior staff member of boat-owner Princess Cruises, who had previously expressed displeasure at the way a mechanical fault was handled.
Hurst replied that he would "like to if I may add my input into this debacle".
In another email to WAU, Hurst copied in Princess Cruises and Wartsila North America (WNA) staff and attached a report he described as "grim reading".
A further email sent to these parties requested that there be "no surprises lurking to bite the next candidate where it hurts".
There were two further emails the company considered "unnecessarily critical" and which it said would result in loss of business and reputation.
Disciplinary action commenced and Hurst was dismissed on April 8, 2014.
"It is clear that WAU has no issue with Mr Hurst raising his concerns about the work undertaken but its concern is that the issues should not have been copied to WNA or the customer," the ERA said.
WAU considered that sending these emails to third parties constituted "sabotage to our business and to our reputation", company management said to during the disciplinary process.
The company yesterday said it believed Hurst had acted in breach of its code of conduct. "Naturally we are disappointed with the outcome but accept that it is the decision of the ERA and we have every intention of complying with it," the company said.
ERA member Peter van Keulen said the dismissal process was "sufficiently flawed" and was not satisfied that the company had properly investigated the emails to understand how and why they were sent, nor their consequences.
"The biggest omission by WAU was the failure in the process to put to Mr Hurst the allegation that he failed to take responsibility for his actions," he said.
The ERA concluded that Hurst was somewhat blameworthy for sharing the emails and reduced his remedies by 30 per cent.
Nonetheless, he was awarded $37,443 for lost wages and $7000 for hurt and humiliation.
Princess Cruises owner Carnival Australia was approached for comment.