Pro Pine Director Defies ERA Inquiry, Ordered to Pay $42K Over Unjust Dismissal and Wage Cut

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In an astonishing display of disregard towards the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), Akuhata Pirere, the director and sole shareholder of Pro Pine Silviculture Limited (Pro Pine) refrained from engaging or cooperating during an investigation into a complaint filed by one of his employees. The unnamed employee lodged a grievance claim with the ERA, stating he was unjustly dismissed via a group chat and experienced an unfair reduction in wages.

Compounding his offences, Pirere allegedly made threats against this employee at his home. The employee received cautions of the nature that Pirere “knew people” and that he ought to “be careful.” Revelations from the employee’s mother during the hearing painted a troubled picture, highlighting his diminishing mental health and increasing depression resulting from the incident.

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ERA disclosed a condescending group chat message from Pirere to the employee, which read, “Sorry [employee] we’re not picking you up… Pulled you up so many times and you’re doing the same thing… Thanks for giving it a go, mate. But we honestly think this job’s not for you. Good luck.”

The distraught employee sought compensatory damages, citing loss of earned wages, emotional distress, and a significant blow to his dignity and pride. ERA member Rowan Anderson dubbed Pro Pine’s conduct as grossly unjust, calling the dismissal ‘a grave concern’ that was both ’embarrassing and humiliating’. In the committee’s assessment, the firing was not simply unfair – it was disgracefully abhorrent.

Pirere’s defiance extended to an email addressed to the ERA in which he blamed the employee for his decision to shut down the business and declare bankruptcy. He wrote, “Tell [the employee] because of idiots like him we no longer want to be in business. We are no longer in business. We have no money to give as we are claiming bankruptcy. Leave us alone.”

Anderson admonished Pro Pine for their lack of cooperation during the investigation and for failing to offer any justification for their reprehensible actions. He deemed Pirere’s message as grossly insufficient to warrant the termination of the employee. Based on the uncontested evidence, Anderson decided the termination was improperly administered and substantiated the employee’s claim of unjust disadvantage.

Moreover, the ERA endorsed the worker’s complaint regarding the unexpected drop in his pay rate on his third day at work without any preliminary consultation with him. Their probe established that even though both parties had previously agreed upon a rate of $25 per hour, Pro Pine unilaterally slashed it down to $21.

Based on these findings, the ERA mandated Pro Pine to remunerate the employee with $3927.60 for wage arrears, $360 in annual holiday pay, $9000 for lost wages, $22,500 as compensation for pain and suffering, and $7000 as a punitive measure. Consolidating these amounts, Pro Pine was ordered to pay a total sum of $42,836.60 within 28 days of the determination taking effect, consequent to their audacious dismissal episode on August 28.