29 Jul 2016

Māori trust must pay sacked worker $10k

1:05 pm on 29 July 2016

A high-profile Maori trust has been ordered to pay a former worker almost $10,000 despite him making unsubstantiated allegations of immigration fraud against the trust.

Andrew Yao was sacked by Te Whānau O Waipareira Trust, which is headed by former Labour MP John Tamihere, after claiming his manager told him to pay for help with immigration.

Mr Yao, who was a software developer, alleged his manager had, through a third party, asked for up to $40,000.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has now ruled his sacking was justified but the process was flawed.

In mid-2014, soon after starting working for the trust, a Chinese relative contacted Mr Yao on social media and suggested he "pay tribute to them for their help" or buy his manager gifts.

He assumed his manager had sent the message through the relative and so bought a camera and a few watches online.

These were seized by Customs because their estimated value was $7286 and Mr Yao was required to pay tax; he returned them to Japan.

After he was placed on garden leave following a warning about his performance, Mr Yao alleged his treatment was due to him not paying his manager.

When Mr Tamihere investigated last year he found no evidence and sacked Mr Yao.

He later told the Authority the allegation had the potential to damage the Trust's reputation.

"He was conscious at the time of allegations of immigration fraud being made against other organisations," the Authority said.

"The Trust primarily relied upon government funding to provide services to the west Auckland community; 40 percent of the clientele accessing their services were migrant communities from the Pacific Islands and Asia. The Trust's mana with its migrant community and funder would have been seriously affected by alleged fraudulent activity involving immigration."

The Authority ruled the allegation was most likely false and Mr Yao's sacking deserved.

"Unsubstantiated serious allegations of misconduct against fellow employees have resulted in refusal of reinstatement on the basis that any relationship of trust and confidence that previously existed had been irrevocably destroyed," it said.

However, the Authority found serious flaws in the trust's investigation process.

It said Mr Yao was not provided with information from the investigation and the trust did not fully allow for the Chinese language barrier.

Mr Yao was awarded $9571.56 in compensation and legal costs.

Mr Tamihere declined to comment.

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