Watchdog backs NIWA on manager's dismissal
The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research was justified in dismissing a former manager who claims he was made redundant without a genuine reason, the Employment Relations Authority has ruled.
Nicholas Bain lost his job as NIWA's commercialisation manager in 2011 as the Crown research institute struggled for funds in the wake of the global financial crisis.
He wanted the ERA to award him $35,000 for six months' wages and compensation for "humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings".
He had already been paid $54,514 for three months' salary and redundancy compensation when his position was disestablished to save NIWA costs. He had worked there for seven years.
Mr Bain also claimed he was entitled to a "bonus payment" of $5000 as part of his contract.
NIWA chief executive John Morgan told the ERA that NIWA's financial position was getting worse in 2010 and it needed to save money.
Key clients were cutting back on spending and revenue was likely to drop by $10 million in 2011, he said.
Management was asked to "identify where the organisation had, or was likely to have, surplus capacity".
Mr Bain was told in March 2011 of a proposal to "disestablish" his position.
He was given several weeks to provide feedback on the proposal, but was told in April that NIWA had decided to go ahead with redundancy.
Instead of working out his three-month notice period, he was paid $54,514 for three months' salary and redundancy compensation.
Mr Bain said the dismissal was not justified because NIWA was simply "going through the motions" and had no good reason to disestablish his position.
"NIWA failed to put forward any business case that identified how the business could operate more efficiently without this role in its structure."
He had provided NIWA with comprehensive feedback proving his role was vital to delivering the outcomes the government expected, but the organisation failed to engage with him.
Mr Bain also claimed his redundancy was predetermined by management – for example, general manager of strategy Dr Bryce Cooper and Mr Morgan avoided contact with Mr Bain after the proposal to review his position was announced.
However, ERA member Kenneth Anderson found NIWA was justified in dismissing Mr Bain.
"An analysis of the overall evidence does not raise any suggestion that the decision by NIWA to make Mr Bain's position redundant was other than genuine," he said in his determination.
"I conclude that this was a business decision that a fair and reasonable employer was entitled to make, given the overall circumstances."
Although NIWA could have handled Mr Bain's redundancy in a "more sensitive manner", he found it was not an unfair decision.
And there was no evidence to support Mr Bain's claim he should have been paid a $5000 bonus.
Mr Anderson reserved a decision on costs, leaving it up to NIWA and Mr Bain to reach a settlement.