ERA says milk worker sacked for drawing swastika after Christchurch terror attacks not unfairly dismissed

He was working at a Meadow Fresh milk processing facility in Christchurch when the incident happened.
He was working at a Meadow Fresh milk processing facility in Christchurch when the incident happened. Photo credit: File / Getty

A milk factory worker in Christchurch was not unfairly dismissed after losing his job for drawing a swastika on his overalls shortly after the Christchurch terror attacks, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has ruled.

Ivan Ilin was working at a Meadow Fresh milk processing facility owned by Goodman Fielder NZ Ltd  in March 2019 when the incident took place.

According to the ERA's ruling, Ilan was asked what he thought of the mosque shootings days after they had occurred. In response, he drew a swastika on his overalls and allegedly said "so scary". Another employee said he also said "white supremacy" as he drew the swastika.

When someone complained about his overalls, he was summoned to his manager's office, where he said he was just "joking around and meant nothing by it".

Ilan then asked who had complained so he could apologise, which he did, adding that no-one in the workforce was offended by his "silly mistake", according to the ERA ruling.

Ilan, who had worked at the company for nearly 10 years, expressed remorse and said he did not support the atrocities of the March 15 shootings or the associated ideology. He said his actions were an unsuccessful attempt at humour.

Ilan told the authority after several meetings on March 29 he was told "they had decided to let him go". He said he was dismissed before Goodman Fielder had taken the time to consider his explanation and accused the company of using the incident to dismiss him, instead of incurring the cost of making him redundant which would have arisen in April 2019 due to process changes.

He lodged a grievance claim with the ERA in September 2019 seeking compensation for lost earnings, for humiliation, lost dignity and injured feelings, as well as a penalty for breach of good faith and costs.

In the ERA's ruling, released on January 15, ERA member Philip Cheyne dismissed Ilin's complaint and said Goodman Fielder was justified in dismissing him. Cheyne said there was "no argument... that Goodman Fielder used the incident as an excuse to dismiss him, when upcoming business changes would have required a reduction in its workforce".

"I find Goodman Fielder's actions and how it acted were what a fair and reasonable employer could have done in all the circumstances," Cheyne wrote.