E tū ordered to pay $25,000 for unjust dismissal of former organiser

Union loses case alleging 'serious misconduct' at Employment Court, nearly a year after losing at ERA

E tū ordered to pay $25,000 for unjust dismissal of former organiser

The E tū union has been ordered to pay $25,000 for unjustifiably dismissing a former union organiser it accused of committing "serious misconduct."

The union fired organiser Sher Singh in July 2020 for unethical conduct and "inappropriate communication" with an employer (HVF) who allegedly exploited a migrant worker.

The Employment Relations Authority previously ruled in favour of Singh, saying that it wasn't convinced that the union thoroughly investigated the concerns against Singh.

E tū later raised the matter to the Employment Court - only to receive a similar judgment.

Judge Christina Inglis ruled this week that E tū unjustifiably disadvantaged and dismissed Singh.

Employment dispute 

The case's history started when Singh, who also worked for the Migrant Workers' Association (MWA), got involved in an investigation concerning HVF and an employee claiming she was underpaid.

Singh, a friend of HVF, arranged a meeting at the E tū premises with a MWA representative, the MWA president, the employee, and the employee's husband. During the meeting, Singh's role was unclear. HVF thought he was supporting her, while the MWA saw him as a mediator. The meeting ended with HVF agreeing to pay the employee but didn't do so.

In July 2020, HVF called E tū accusing Singh of harassment. Her allegations included defamation, breach of privacy, mental and physical harassment, spreading false information and hate speech about her business, providing staff to act against her, and causing business losses.

HVF provided messages and emails from her interactions with Singh, including a WhatsApp conversation where Singh allegedly asked her to "book a hotel room" to resolve matters.

Singh argued the WhatsApp messages were "fabricated," but admitted that communication about the meeting had occurred via his work phone.

During the investigation, HVF went to the media, leading E tū to suspend Singh, which would eventually lead to his termination.

"You were at once her support person, a mediator, and some kind of adjudicator in an employment issue. You then moved into an enforcement role. This was unethical," Singh's dismissal letter stated.

The union also said his communications with HVF were "inappropriate."

"E tū's credibility as a legitimate trade union is severely compromised by your actions, and the trust and confidence necessary in an employment relationship has been destroyed by your actions. This is serious misconduct."

Unjust dismissal

The Employment Court took Singh's side on the case.

"While I accept that E tū was concerned about the potential impact on its reputation if HVF's allegations became public, I do not accept that its concerns extended to a desire to protect Mr Singh," Inglis said in her ruling.

"It remained unexplained how suspending him, and removing him from work, would protect his interests. Nor do I accept that suspension was justified in order to ward off reputational damage."

E tū also failed to satisfy the court of its decision to dismiss Singh, according to Inglis.

"Alternatives to dismissal must be considered. There is no evidence that E tū considered whether its concerns might otherwise be met, for example by coaching or training."

As a result, E tū has been ordered to pay Singh $25,000, and another $11,500 as contribution to the former employee's costs in the Authority. It is also ordered to pay Mr. Singh 12 months' lost wages.

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