Company ignores order to pay trucker $36,000
Time is running out for Star Nelson Holdings to pay former employee Murray Cousens after the company failed to pass on the Covid-19 wage subsidy to him.
In a ruling on February 24, the labor court gave Star Nelson Holdings one month to comply with an order by the Labor Relations Authority (ERA) to pay Cousens $25,000 in compensation, 6 $131.12 in lost wages, a $2,000 fine and $3,000 in costs.
Subsequently, the court also sanctioned the company with a fine of $10,000, of which $6,000 is payable to Cousens.
He was also awarded $3,000 in additional costs and allowed to seek other penalties, such as the ability to seek sequestration of company assets, if she continues to defy the order, which means Cousens now owes more than $45,000.
Cousens has been battling Star Nelson Holdings for nearly two years after quitting his job due to a dispute with the company over its failure to pay him the Covid-19 grant.
Star Nelson Holdings is a Nelson-based management consultancy which pays employees engaged by its director Stuart Biggs’ other registered companies – furniture removal company Star Moving Ltd, which has branches in Nelson, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, and the Auckland Trucking Company. Transport Scott Ltd.
Throughout the ERA and labor court proceedings, Biggs did not attend any hearings, made any submissions, and had very limited communication with authorities.
Cousens filed a petition with the ERA in July 2020 for wrongful dismissal and unfair disadvantage.
Although he never received a written contract, the authority learned that he worked full-time as a driver/packer with the company for six months until his departure in May 2020.
During the national Level 4 lockdown, he had to rely on emergency funding from Work and Income because the company was not paying him the grant it applied for on his behalf.
When Cousens popped the question to management, he was asked to sign an illegal zero-hours contract retroactive to his first day at the company in November 2019.
He was told he would get a contract as a full-time employee after the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.
When Cousens refused to sign the deal, Star Nelson’s regional manager told him the company couldn’t have him on the premises as it would leave them without insurance and suggested he take a week off.
Upset by the way he had been treated, he then resigned.
Star Nelson Holding received $260,000 through the government wage subsidy for 37 workers and claimed Cousens did not receive the subsidy because he was a casual worker.
While Cousens believed he was a full-time, permanent employee, his payslip showed that he was paid on a “pay-as-you-go” system instead of being entitled to paid time off, such as a casual worker.
But without a written work contract, the authority said the relationship was unsettled as Cousens was regularly offered a 40-hour workweek, as opposed to an occasional deal.
The authority found that his job was that of a full-time worker.
In February 2021, it ruled that Star Nelson Holdings had failed to act as a fair and reasonable employer and that Cousens had been wrongfully terminated and unfairly disadvantaged.
A total of $36,131.12 was awarded in favor of Cousens.
But by July 2021 he had received none of the money and Cousens, who was in distress and suffering financial hardship, returned to ERA to seek a compliance order.
The authority found that despite Cousens’ attempts to get the money, Star Nelson Holdings made no effort to pay him.
She ordered the company to pay Cousens within 14 days.
However, more than seven months later, he has still not received any money and has asked the labor court to impose penalties on the company for failing to comply with the ERA order.
In his ruling, Judge Kerry Smith said the company’s behavior was deliberate and willful.
The impact on Cousens was significant, Justice Smith said.
“He was forced to borrow money to meet living expenses, pay bills and buy groceries,” he said.
“[Cousens] said, and I accept, that not being paid by the company has caused him considerable financial hardship, personal anxiety and distress.”
The company now has until March 24 to pay the $36,131.12 under the ERA order or else further penalties could be imposed, but Biggs said today he would appeal the ruling. decision because he felt that the Labor Court had not given him sufficient time to respond to the proceedings.
“They were extremely unprofessional,” he said.
Cousens had still not received any money from the company, Biggs confirmed.
-By Tara Shaskey
Multimedia Journalist Open Justice