Man ordered to pay former best-mate more than $110,000 in unpaid wages

A 50-year friendship between two South Island men has ended in court with one ordered to pay the other more than $110,000 for seven years of unpaid wages despite the gift of land and free accommodation.

The Employment Court case included everything from free rent, gifted land, unpaid wages, accusations of dismissal and a heart attack.

The decision released this week revealed South Island men Frank Kidd and George Cowan were friends for more than five decades with a shared interest in car racing.

They enjoyed each other’s company and “supported each other – as friends do”.

In 2009, Cowan called his friend to tell him his former matrimonial home in Invercargill had been sold, leaving him without a home.

Kidd invited his friend to come and stay with him at home in Winton, near Invercargill.

Kidd had a two-bedroom apartment above his home and although it shared an entrance it had its own kitchen, bathroom, and living area.

The court heard Cowan became a regular truck driver for Kidd Partnership and assisted with the construction of a rest home in Winton along with other construction projects.

As well as the free rent Kidd gifted a section of land near Winton to his friend – an arrangement Kidd told the court he thought was agreed compensation for work.

But six years into the arrangement Cowan approached his friend about wages and sparked an acrimonious dispute between the pair.

The court heard Cowan suffered a heart attack soon after.

The Employment Court dismissed Cowan’s claim he was unjustifiably dismissed – instead, it considered his work to be that of a contractor.

But it did find Cowan worked without pay for seven years and ordered Kidd Partnerships (a company owned by Frank Kidd and his son Geoffrey Kidd) pay Cowan $104, 600.85 in unpaid wages.

The amount included $7,748.21 in holiday pay.

The wages calculated at minimum wage were as follows:

July 2010 – March 2011 911.5 hours at $12.75 per hour $11,621.63

April 2011 – March 2012 956.25 hours at $13 per hour $12,431.25

April 2012 – March 2013 1290.25 hours at $13.50 per hour $17,418.38

April 2013 – March 2014 621.5 hours at $13.75 per hour $8,545.63

April 2014 – March 2015 1333.25 hours at $14.25 per hour $18,998.81

Kidd Partnerships was also ordered to pay a $20,000 penalty for not complying with the law.

Of the $20,000 penalty $8,000 was to be paid to Cowan and $12,000 to the Crown.

Before the order was made Kidd Partnership submitted that any amount due to Cowan should be reduced by $80,000. This was the stated value of the section transferred to him in July 2010.

But the court ruled the transfer of the land was for work done by Cowan and “its value cannot be taken into account in the calculation of wages due to him”.

This week’s decision overturned a 2018 Employment Relations Authority decision that found there was no employment contract and that Cowan was owed nothing.

The 2018 decision said “there was no employment relationship at all” and the outcome was that Cowan was ordered to pay $80,000 which was the value of the gifted land.

That ERA decision was appealed and resulted in the Employment Court case decided this week.

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