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Inn staff win $28k claim

By Don Farmer

[email protected]

Staff of the Eketahuna Inn who were left high and dry for wages when a former lease holder failed to pay them have won the day, but don’t expect to see the money.

At a hearing held in the Copthorne Resort, Masterton, on Wednesday, Mike Loftus of the Employment Relations Authority ruled in favour of the 12 staff who were represented by barrister Jills Angus Burney.

He ordered Laura Aldworth, in absentia, to pay a total of $25,143.18 owing from last year and to pay the complete costs of the action taken against her, which totals $3180.

Ms Angus Burney said the individual amounts ranged from $350 to $7500, with the latter amount being owed to a woman who had been hired over the longest period, reaching back to before the pub re-opened.

The action taken has no connection with the pub’s owner Mike Shale who owns the building and who stepped back into running the hotel when Aldworth failed to pay up and left Eketahuna.

Ms Angus Burney said the authority had given Aldworth until November 2 to pay the outstanding wages but aside from not appearing at the hearing yesterday the whereabouts of Aldworth is also unknown.

Ms Angus Burney said Aldworth could not be found at the time papers were to be served but that she was the sole director and shareholder of the company that had employed the 12 staff and the legal right to pursue her for the money existed.

“All the staff are well grounded and are sceptical about getting their money, but are equally determined this woman will not be able to do the same thing again,” she said.

Mr Loftus had conducted the hearing and made judgement on the day.

He had confirmed all the documents the staff had produced along with time sheets for hours worked and confirmed the amounts outstanding.

In his written judgement Mr Loftus said he had concluded Aldworth was trying her best to be uncontactable.

She had been earlier tracked to Palmerston North but had since left that address.

The whereabouts of two former staff was likewise unknown and as neither had presented themselves or tendered any evidence their claims were dismissed.

In his determination Mr Loftus said the applicants had been employed between August 17 and October 25 last year.

All but one of the applicants was to be paid $17 an hour except for Hayley McKenna who was on $18 an hour.

“Unfortunately there were problems with payment from the start though the applicants kept working on the basis they knew and trusted Ms Aldworth.

“She both promised payment and gave an indication of goodwill by forwarding various sums to each applicant on an ad-hoc basis,” Mr Loftus said.

He said staff had also been asked to help the business by paying for services and products on the company’s behalf, “again with a promise of repayment”.

The judgement covered unpaid wages, holiday pay and reimbursement of money the staff had outlaid on behalf of the company.

Aldworth’s time at the Eketahuna Inn, while brief, involved an on-site confrontation with unpaid staff and contractors that resulted in police being called

Soon after that incident Aldworth quit the pub and Mr Shale returned to running it in company with a former owner of the premises, Colin Gillott.

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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