Key Points:

Another Wairoa meatworker fired last year has triumphed over his former employer, which used a private investigator and a forensic accoun-tant to bust staff allegedly stealing meat.

Graeme Corps picked up almost $46,000 in lost wages and compensation last week after the Employment Relations Authority found his dismissal was unjustified.

Affco New Zealand Limited, which ran the freezing works, hired the pair in June last year to crack a "theft ring" that management had heard was operating among staff.

During the investigation four other staff lost their jobs - two were later awarded $8000 compensation each, plus three months' lost wages, after their dismissals were found to be unjustified. The other two came away empty-handed after admitting taking meat home from work.

In the latest case, Corps - who had worked for Affco since 1977 - was accused of theft on a much grander scale.

He worked as an inventory manager and his bosses alleged he had been "cooking the books", that he was involved in a "theft ring" and even "instructed other employees to falsify company records".

They later told the authority "while we did not suspect Graeme of stealing any of the produce, his actions were so inconsistent with the principles and philosophies of inventory control, that we were concerned that we would have no faith in him to do his job".

Corps repeatedly explained during meetings with management that he had deleted stock off the inventory and had made mistakes - but he was using a new computer system with no proper training, in-house auditing or written manuals.

"He did not have anything to hide," noted authority member Paul Stapp in his decision. "He believed he was carrying out his job in the correct fashion and to the best of his ability."

Stapp ruled that the company could not justify any of the allegations it levelled against Corps.