CTU example was not covered by 90 day law

A few weeks back the CTU held up the example of Heather Smith:

Heather Smith was publicised in the union’s “name and shame” campaign after being sacked by Stokes Valley Pharmacy in Hutt Valley.

She had worked there for almost three years, but had to re-apply for her job late last year after the business changed ownership and name, and was sacked a few weeks later.

Now this case concerned me. Because the 90 day grievance free provisions are meant to apply to new employees only, not existing employees. I wasn’t convinced that a change of ownership could change things.

If her job was truly made redundant and she applied for a new job, then that may be a grey area – but if she was carrying on in much the same job then it would not be a true redundancy.

So I checked with the Minister’s office, and was told that the case the CTU had highlighted had gone to court – something not mentioned in the original media reports. This is a good thing, as it looked like the 90 day period had been misused.

And the court has ruled:

The first employment case brought to court under 90-day trial laws has gone in favour of a dismissed employee, prompting the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) to send a warning to employers.

Backed by the CTU, Ms Smith’s case ended up in the Employment Court, which ruled in a decision released today that the new employer had not complied with contractual requirements of the Employment Relations Act relating to the trial period, meaning laws preventing Ms Smith taking a personal grievance case were nullified.

The court also referred to “good faith” expectations and said the employer had not lived up to those in its dismissal of Ms Smith and there were grounds for a personal grievance.

CTU president Helen Kelly said the employer had relied on the law for complete indemnity from standards of decent employment practice, but was found to have breached both good faith requirements and terms in the employment agreement.

This is a good ruling by the court, and I am glad the CTU helped take the case. Unions do often play a valuable role in protecting some workers.

However I believe it was wrong to include this case as one of the 90 day examples, when there was in fact a lawsuit underway arguing it was not covered by the 90 day law. And indeed we have found out that the law is not as wide reaching as the CTU claimed.

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