Fair Work Commission finds Queensland tradie unfairly dismissed over killing his boss’ galah Crackers

In the space of six minutes a boss and worker went from being “like family” to each other to having a “broken relationship” that required others to step in.

A stubborn galah has caused a dispute between a tradie and his boss which got so ugly that one took the other to court and will now receive a huge payout.

It all started when the Dunshea household in Bunderberg, north of Brisbane, rescued a galah that they named Crackers, who became a cherished pet.

Gregg Dunshea ran a fencing business and employed, Blake O’Keeffe, for many years.

Mr O’Keeffe, aged in his early 20s, was told to reverse a truck on the Dunshea property as one of his final tasks for Friday afternoon back in August last year.

The young laborer spotted Crackers sitting on the ground in the path of the truck and tried to move the bird with a mop, in the belief that the creature would cling onto the handle as if it were a branch. Crackers had bitten him in the past so he did not want to just pick him up with his bare hands.

When this didn’t work Mr O’Keeffe tried the same but with a broom, hoping the wooden handle would be more akin to the galah’s normal perch.

Stubbornly, Crackers did not clutch onto the broom. Instead, the pet ran under another nearby truck and kept moving further under the vehicle out of reach.

Satisfied that the bird was out of harm’s way, I reversed the truck. Unfortunately Crackers had wandered back over and ran over the animal, killing it instantly.

The very next day Mr O’Keeffe was sacked.

At the time of the incident, Mr O’Keeffe said he raced out to fetch his boss, Mr Dunshea, who had previously described him as “part of the family” after more than seven years on the job.

He said “sorry” about Crackers’ death and his employer responded with: “It’s okay don’t worry about it”, before walking away with the bird in his hands.

But left with the weekend to stew on the incident, Mr Dunshea had a change of heart.

Mr O’Keeffe rocked up to work on Monday morning and in the next six minutes his whole world came crumbling down.

Mr Dunshea had reviewed CCTV footage and believed that the laborer hadn’t checked properly before reversing the car out, prompting a barrage of verbal abuse.

“You’ve turned into someone I despise, you’re the worst kind of person, a person who doesn’t think about how their actions will affect other people”, Mr O’Keeffe reportedly told.

He informed the young man that he was terminating this employment, effective immediately, for negligence and handed him a letter with this in writing.

“The whole exchange lasted no more than six minutes,” according to legal documents.

Mr O’Keeffe soon took the case to the Fair Work Commission.

Deputy President Nicholas Lake oversaw the case and ultimately ruled in favor of the fired worker.

“I am satisfied that the Applicant’s dismissal was harsh, unjust and unreasonable,” he said in his decision.

He explained: “The first (and primary) reason given by the Respondent for the Applicant’s dismissal was that his negligent conduct and lack of care had caused Crackers’ death. I do not accept that this was a valid reason. While Crackers’ death was no doubt shocking and upsetting for all involved, it was an accident.”

The maximum payout is six months’ worth of wages, however, a final decision on the remedy has not been decided.

“Accordingly, I must now turn to the question of remedy. Given the broken nature of the relationship between the parties, the Applicant does not seek reinstatement,” Deputy President Lake added.

“I agree that reinstatement in this case would not be appropriate.”

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