Butcher was right to be fired for racist comments, ERA says
An Auckland butcher, sacked for making racist comments to colleagues, has lost his bid to keep his job.
Kukyi Tupuanga had been working for Auckland Meat Processors Limited for 31 years but was fired in May for making derogatory comments about Islam.
On May 13, Tupuanga’s colleague, Mohammed Sarik, saw Tupuanga abusing another colleague who was a halal butcher. Sarik stopped the chain in the butchery and rang for team leaders. As a certified halal butcher, Auckland Meat Processors’ butchers can perform religious practices, including praying, at specified times each day.
Sarik informed HR advisor Jackie Dennis about the incident. She told the Employment Relations Authority that Sarik was “visibly shaking and distressed” after the incident.
When Tupuanga was questioned, he responded with a shrug.
Tupuanga was then taken to a meeting room and asked to apologise to his colleagues who were threatening to walk off the job if the issue had not been resolved.
Dennis and three other managers met with Sarik, who claimed Tupuanga had been making racist remarks for a while related to the Government “letting too many Muslim refugees in and [they’re] taking all our jobs”, as well as making derogatory comments about not eating during Ramadan.
The following day, HR manager Shane Baty had a meeting with one of the other halal butchers Tupuanga had abused.
That butcher, Sheik Imran, claimed Tupuanga called him a “f……. Muslim”, and said “you are taking our jobs”, “I will get rid of you” and “you’re always f…… praying and taking too long”.
Imran also said Tupuanga had bowed down on his knees twice, mocking how he and Sarik prayed.
When the managers heard Tupuanga’s side of the story, he said the incident was in retaliation to a recent threat from Imran.
Tupuanga referred to Imran as the “new little man” and claimed he had threatened to “give him a hiding”. Tupuanga said he knelt to make mock Imran’s height not his religion.
Baty held a formal investigation into the allegations and viewed CCTV footage which showed Tupuanga kneeling twice, facing the office and lowering his head as if in prayer.
At the investigation meeting on May 15, Tupuanga reiterated the incident was in response to Imran’s threat, and he had lowered his head to watch “sheep racing”.
However, the sheep were not visible from the angle he was facing when he was kneeling.
Baty preferred the version of events described by the Sarik and Imran, because Tupuanga changed his story, other employees also saw him mocking the prayer routine, and he asked other staff to back him up despite being told to keep the matter confidential.
Tupuanga was told a formal disciplinary meeting would be held and if serious misconduct was found he could lose his job.
At the meeting Tupuanga said he detested all forms of racism and was highly supportive of his colleagues during the Christchurch shootings.
Auckland Meat Processors found Tupuanga used hurtful language, mocked Islamic beliefs and provoked his co-workers with continued slander towards Ramadan.
Tupuanga was dismissed on May 23.
Tupuanga claimed his dismissal was unjustified and that Auckland Meat Processors breached its duty of good faith.
But the authority found Auckland Meat Processors acted as a fair and reasonable employer given the circumstances.
The authority member Vicki Campbell said the incident on May 13 was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for the halal butchers.
“While a meat works is a robust environment I find Mr Tupuanga’s comments and conduct was capable of being regarded as serious misconduct. His comments and conduct were racially offensive and denigrating to the Halal slaughtermen at whom they were directed,” Campbell said.