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Unjustifiably Dismissed Gold Mine Worker Awarded $18,980

Justin Banks had only been working for a month at a gold mine in Arahura, near the town of Hokitika, when he was dismissed in October 2019. Justin resigned from another mining company doing similar work when he was recruited by Gold Stone Mining Groups’ (GSM) site foreman Shaun.

As part of his work, he was required to use a mechanical digger for earthworks during the initial site development.

GSM, Justin’s employer, had two Auckland-based directors, Xiaoqi Lai (also called Kevin), and Qida Xue, who were initially developing the site.

Despite asking for one, Justin had no employment agreement.  He was paid $25 an hour, working 7am to 5pm and for a month, he said things were fine, although he had to provide his own PPE gear and found GSM to be somewhat disorganised.

On October 10, 2019, Justin was asked by Shaun to use his digger to clear some trees. A branch damaged the digger, puncturing its hydraulic pipe, and the site was closed down while the digger was repaired.

Justin was initially told there was nothing to worry about, but then on October 12, Shaun sent him a message by FaceBook messenger and a text telling him not to return to work.

Justin texted back that “they can write me a letter saying why they are gonna fire me so I can give it to another employer”, to which Shaun replied: “Ahhhhhh you probably don’t want a letter saying thousands of dollars of damage was done to a brand new digger, future employer would frown at that. I’m more than happy to write a reference letter? If you want?

Justin was told the employer would not directly contact him, but on October 14, Kevin, one of the directors, told him there was no work for him, and explained that Shaun was upset about the damage to the digger.

The following day, Kevin showed up at Justin’s house and offered him money, but Justin declined, saying he wanted to challenge the termination using ‘proper procedure’.

Justin raised a personal grievance later that day through his advocate. GSM did not engage with Justin’s advocate until mediation on 15 January 2020.

The Authority member, David Beck, said there was no evidence to suggest why GSM did not do an investigation before Justin was summarily dismissed.

“It is apparent … that no process whatsoever was engaged in prior to Mr Banks being dismissed,” Mr Beck said in the judgment.

“I easily find that summary dismissal was not a decision open to a fair and reasonable employer in all the circumstances.”

He found that Justin was not reckless or negligent and had been told to operate a machine not suitable for the purpose he used it for.

It took until six weeks after he was dismissed for Justin to find another job, and he felt anxiety working with machinery at his new job which affected his general mental well-being.

“In giving evidence, Mr Banks struck me as a thoughtful and insightful young man not prone to exaggeration and he has now chosen to look at alternative career options whilst residing in Christchurch and is taking active steps to rebuild his confidence and skill base,” Mr Beck said.

Mr Beck ordered GSM to pay Justin six weeks’ lost wages, totalling $6,000, holiday pay of $480, $10,000 in compensation, and a $2,500 contribution to legal costs.

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