SOLLYS FREIGHT CASE
Solly’s Freight, a transport and logistics provider with depots throughout New Zealand, decided to make 7 of their Christchurch based employees redundant due to the effects of COVID-19. Two employees, Mr de Wys (a line haul driver) and Mr Jenney (a yardman) raised personal grievances after being given notice of redundancy shortly after the lockdown commenced and have since been awarded compensation and lost wages from the Authority.
When the full extent of COVID-19 became apparent, Solly’s Freight applied for the Government wage subsidy and included all of their Christchurch employees in the application. By applying for the wage subsidy when they did, the company signed a declaration saying they would use their “best endeavours” to retain those employees for the duration of the wage subsidy period. After having made the application, but prior to receiving the subsidy funds, the company began having internal discussions about who in the Christchurch branch might be made redundant. The company had considered it would be prudent to reduce their headcount and developed criteria to choose who would stay and who would go.
The company wrote to the employees on 31 March saying they were awaiting confirmation of their wage subsidy application and referring to unprecedented times. The letter did not rule in or out the possibility of restructuring although verbal discussions had been had in which employees were told not to worry. In the meantime, the company had developed a list of which Christchurch employees it would select for redundancy. Mr Wys had raised concerns about the company potentially transporting non-essential goods during Level 4 and was selected for redundancy. In notes produced to the Authority management had written comments next to his name on the list of employees describing him as “mouthy” and “hard work at times”. Mr Jenney was described as “not particularly reliable” and was also selected.
The company sent termination letters to Mr de Wys and Mr Jenney on 2 April notifying them of the redundancies, which were carried out with minimal consultation. The letters referred to how the company had not yet received a response to its wage subsidy application and could not “just go on waiting”. However, it transpired that earlier that day a representative of Solly’s Freight had spoken with a Government official about the company’s wage subsidy application and had asked for the 7 Christchurch employees being made redundant to be excluded from the application. The company were sent a text message on 4 April from the Government agency saying the wage subsidy application had been approved and it was actioned on 6 April.