Brightwater ordered to pay $77K over shoddy redundancy

By Paul McBeth

Jan. 10 (BusinessDesk) - Nelson-based Brightwater Group, which last year threatened redundancies over delays to Bathurst Resources' proposed coal mine on the Denniston Plateau, has been ordered to pay more than $77,000 to in lost wages and compensation over the way it laid off four staff in 2010.

Employment Relations Authority member Helen Doyle found the engineering firm ran a flawed and predetermined process in selecting who would get laid off after its contract with Solid Energy on the Stockton mine wrapped up, and wasn't in line with good faith obligations. The Dec. 17 decision was published on the Department of Labour's website today.

Brightwater had grounds to lay off staff as the Stockton project wound up and after two other major projects didn't eventuate, Doyle said in the ruling. The four men were part of 10 staff made redundant in the Brightwater workshop out of 54 employees in 2010, which has since been reduced to 22 as at August last year.

Where the firm tripped up was in the way it selected who faced redundancy by using a flawed skills matrix to rank employees, and without giving them any chance to dispute the list.

"I find that there was a fundamental unfairness and a breach of good faith requirements with the selection process used by Brightwater to select the four applicants for redundancy," Doyle said.

"There was also an element of predetermination because Brightwater simply relied on a skills matrix prepared some months earlier for the selection of employees for redundancy and were not genuinely, I have found, prepared to make any change to that matrix," she said.

It was "virtually impossible" for the men to "sensibly comment on the skills matrix" at their final meeting, and Brightwater's then chief executive Richard Herd made the final decision without giving them any opportunity to address him directly.

"The actions of Brightwater were not what a fair and reasonable employer would have done," Doyle said.

Brightwater was ordered to pay Brian Arrowsmith $18,224.09 and $1,115.65 to reimburse a cancellation fee he paid for a cancelled holiday plus 5 percent interest. He also received $22.40 from a lost Kiwisaver benefit, and $12,000 in compensation.

The firm was ordered to pay Stuart Arrowsmith $2,700 plus interest for lost wages and $12,000 in compensation, and Michael Colquhoun $8,643.69 plus interest in lost wages and $12,000 compensation.

Brightwater was ordered to pay Andrew Doocey $10,000 in compensation, though he wasn't entitled to lost wages as the ERA's Doyle wasn't convinced he would have kept his role, which was disestablished, even if the process had been fair.

(BusinessDesk)

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