Judge throws out former BHP mine manager’s unfair dismissal claim

A judge has ruled BHP Billiton was well within its rights to terminate former Ravensthorpe mine manager Isak Buitendag’s employment.

Buitendag claimed he was unfairly dismissed from the nickel operation in 2009, a day before it was shut.

Launching a wrongful termination case,  he attempted to sue the miner for about $2 million.

Buitendag lost his claim in the Supreme Court of Western Australia last year.

But the mine manager, who now holds a senior position at Fortescue Metals Group, launched an appeal which was thrown out on Thursday.

Buitendag worked at the Nickel West operation as a general manager for almost one-and-a-half years before BHP cut him loose in January 2009, saying he had breached his contract in six areas.

BHP claims Buitendag failed to disclose a number of donations surrounding the construction of a local gun club of which he was a founding member.

Incidents included the donation of a transportable house and materials to the Hopetoun Clay Target Club, instructing a BHP employee to design the club’s clay target range, and requesting Ertech, an independent contractor, to voluntarily complete earthmoving works at the site.

Upholding trial judge Rene Le Miere’s ruling this week, the appeal judgement found Buitendag’s actions were a conflict of interest and his grounds for appeal which covered some 40 pages, failed to succinctly present errors of law or fact.

Justice Carmel McLure said Buitendag’s sacking was warranted.

"They were very serious transgressions that could and did destroy the trust and confidence which is essential to the employer/employee relationship," she wrote.

But the mine manager insists he had no financial interest in the shooting club so there was no conflict of interest.

Drawing on BHP’s community engagement requirements Buitendag also argued he was obliged to participate in community development projects.

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