Woman who was unfairly dismissed after working ONE shift awarded a total of $12,000 in compensation 

A woman who worked a full shift at a cafe only to be told it was an unpaid trial has been awarded an extra $3,000 to cover her legal fees.

Helen Mawhinney took a cafe in Wellington to New Zealand’s Employment Relations Authority challenging her dismissal in August, 2017, after she worked an eight-hour shift only to be told afterward it was unpaid.

She was given $9,000 in compensation back in February, 2019, by Employment Relations Authority member Michele Ryan.

Now Ms Ryan has told the company to cover Ms Mawhinney’s legal costs and a reimbursement of the filing fee, according to the New Zealand Herald.  

Sfizio Limited, the owner of Wadestown Kitchen near Wellington Harbour, disputed her claim, arguing the woman had agreed to participate in an an unpaid competency assessment with the aim of getting a job.

However Employment Relations Authority member Michele Ryan disagreed, finding her employer had dismissed her unfairly and failed to properly explain the situation.

She awarded Miss Mawhinney $7,000 compensation plus another $1,890 for the four-week notice period and another $119 for the work she performed on August 4, 2017. 

The practice of having staff work an unpaid trial shift is widespread throughout the hospitality industry in both Australia and New Zealand. 

United Voice Queensland union secretary Gary Bullock told the Gold Coast Bulletin the industry was riddled with employers willing to take advantage of job-seekers.

‘Hospitality workers often fall prey to unscrupulous employers.’

He said trail periods had been a longstanding practice but staff needed to be compensated fairly for the work they do.

In 2015 there was a crackdown on hospitality businesses throughout Canberra using unpaid trail shifts.

University of Adelaide Law School Professor and author of Law at Work, Rosemary Owens, told ABC at the time trailing staff for more than a few hours was unfair.

‘For work in a cafe, we would say this sort of work could be assessed perhaps in a couple of hours. A period of six hours is too long.’ 

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