An Auckland butcher who was fired after 30 years of service for making Islamophobic comments has lost a bid to keep his job.
The Employment Relations Authority has rejected Kukyi Tupuanga’s claims after he was let go from Auckland Meat Processors Limited for abusing a new colleague for his religious practices.
Tupuanga, a mutton slaughterman who had been with the company for 31 years, was working in the sticking pen alongside a number of halal butchers on May 13. Auckland Meat Processors is halal-certified, meaning Muslim employees are able to pray at certain times throughout the workday.
Halal slaughterman Mohammed Sarik saw Tupuanga verbally abusing Sheik Imran and imitating him kneeling in prayer. Sarik halted work and alerted team leaders to the situation, before heading to the HR office where he was observed to be “visibly shaking and distressed”.
The halal slaughtermen threatened to walk off the job if the issue wasn’t resolved. During a meeting with HR, Tupuanga was asked to apologise and given the opportunity to move to the beef floor instead.
It was then revealed that Tupuanga had a history of making racist remarks about Muslims, including that the New Zealand Government was letting in too many Muslim refugees who were taking jobs from locals. He had also mocked his halal colleagues for fasting during Ramadan.
Imran told HR that during the altercation in the sticking pen, Tupuanga had called him a “f**king Muslim” who was “always f**king praying and taking too long”. He’d also threatened to “get rid of” Imran, as well as bowing down twice to imitate Islamic prayer.
When asked for his version of events, Tupuanga claimed that Imran had threatened him earlier and he was simply retaliating. He also denied mocking Imran’s praying practices, saying he had bent over to make fun of his height rather than his religion. Tupuanga later changed his story, saying that he had bent over to look at “sheep racing”.
A formal investigation found that no sheep would have been visible from Tupuanga’s vantage point, and that multiple witnesses had interpreted his gesture as mocking a prayer. It was also discovered that Imran had had no prior interaction with Tupuanga before May 13, contradicting his claim of being threatened, and that Tupuanga had tried to seek support for his side of the story from other team members, despite being told to keep the matter private and avoid the sticking pen while under investigation.
Auckland Meat Processors found that the claims of Tupuanga’s racial harassment were substantiated and amounted to serious misconduct. He was dismissed on May 23.
Tupuanga claimed he had been fired without justification and that Auckland Meat Processors breached its duty of good faith by failing to investigate his claims of Imran’s threats.
In its determination, the Employment Relations Authority found that Tupuanga had failed to identify any breaches of good faith from Auckland Meat Processors and denied his application for penalties.
Authority member Vicki Campbell said there was no evidence Imran had threatened Tupuanga and it was unlikely given his small size.
“While a meat works is a robust environment I find Mr Tupuanga’s comments and conduct was capable of being regarded as serious misconduct,” Campbell said.
“His comments and conduct were racially offensive and denigrating to the halal slaughtermen, at whom they were directed.”
Another Muslim employee told Campbell that while he remained friends with Tupuanga, “if you go against him, he will make your job harder”.