A meat worker sacked for refusing to work on the Sabbath has been awarded almost $30,000 compensation after successfully arguing the decision breached his human rights.
Jalesi Nakarawa complained to the Human Rights Review Tribunal that Affco New Zealand terminated his job on religious grounds.
Mr Nakarawa told the tribunal he belonged to the Church of God and believed that, as required by the Fifth Commandment, the Sabbath must be observed - meaning he could not engage in paid work between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday, according to the tribunal decision released today.
He told the tribunal he was hired at the company's Horotiu branch in Waikato on December 13, 2010.
At no time did Mr Nakarawa tell his employers he was unable to work on the Sabbath, but he told the tribunal he had never specifically been asked about his availability on Saturdays.
The week after he began work, he met with the plant's production manager Kevin Casey to explain why he could not work on the Sabbath.
Mr Casey said to him that if he could not work on Saturdays he did not meet the needs of the company and should therefore go home, Mr Nakarawa told the tribunal.
In a letter Mr Nakarawa wrote to Affco, he noted his religious belief was never addressed even though it was "the crux of the whole matter''.
"It is ironic that page 16 of the Induction Manual contains an assurance of respect to my rights of values and beliefs and yet my employment was basically terminated on religious ground.''
Mr Casey told the tribunal if Mr Nakarawa "had been honest'' at the time of his interview he would not have been offered employment because he could not work the hours required by Affco.
It had nothing to do with his religious beliefs, he said.
He said there was no solution to work around Mr Nakarawa's religious beliefs because if staff could not work all the hours required of them, the work would not get done there would be a "huge cost'' to the company.
The tribunal said during the hearing, Mr Casey demonstrated a "dogmatic and inflexible attitude to employees, overtime and Saturday work''.
"His approach to Mr Nakarawa then and now was that above everything else, the interests of the company were to be served. The particular circumstances of the individual counted for nothing.''
It said there was a "surprising lack of awareness, at senior management level, of the non-discrimination obligations placed on an employer by the Human Rights Act''.
APNZ was unable to contact Mr Nakarawa.
In a statement, Affco said it was considering the decision and would likely appeal against it.
It said it employed around 3000 people of many different nationalities and religions and had never before been subject to a claim before the Human Rights Review Tribunal.
"This matter occurred some time ago in 2010, shortly after Mr Nakarawa was employed as a casual employee. Mr Nakarawa accepted employment for work hours which he knew he could not fulfill. He did not disclose his inability to perform those work hours to Affco prior to his employment,'' the company said.
* A declaration is made that Affco committed a breach of the Human Rights Act 1993 by discriminating against Mr Nakarawa for reason of his religious beliefs;
* Damages of $12,118.00 are awarded for loss of wages;
* Damages of $15,000.00 are awarded for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to the feelings of Mr Nakarawa;
* Affco, in conjunction with the Human Rights Commission, provides training to its management staff in relation to their and Affco's obligations under the Human Rights Act 1993.