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Are current employment laws upholding tikanga māori in the workplace?

Lawyer Shelley Kopu gave a moving address at the recent Employment Law Conference in Wellington. During Shelley’s address regarding the topic “Does the manner in which we practise employment law reflect and honour a multi-cultural society?” I was personally moved by her insightful and thought provoking presentation.

Shelley Kopu posed the following question: if the Employment Relations Act 2000 (Act) centres itself upon the overarching importance of relationships, why do Tikanga Māori and Te Ao Māori, which place high value on community and solidarity, not form a part of this consideration?

Tikanga Māori: the correct way of doing things in Te Ao Māori; that is, a Māori worldview. Referencing key values, rules and concepts such as Kotahitanga (solidarity) and Whanaungatanga (the protection of and obligations in relation to kinship), Tikanga is both flexible and principled, with the appropriate application dependent on the circumstances.

Given issues in the workplace can often arise from interpersonal issues, addressing them from the perspective of consciously seeking to restore the Mana (dignity, character, prestige) of both parties when an issue has arisen – without taking it from or depleting the other person’s Mana – could form the cornerstone of addressing conflicts or issues in the workplace.

The lack of Tikanga in employment law is surprising, given New Zealand’s renewed commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the fact that, since the late 90s, the Law Commission has recognised the need to actualise the Treaty partnership within existing laws and constitutions. The Resource Management Act 1991 now references the concept of Kaitiakitanga (guardianship), and the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 was recently amended to acknowledge the key role Whakapapa (genealogy) and Whanaungatanga have to play in the wellbeing of children and young persons.

Do such amendments signal a move towards embracing Tikanga in a wider range of law? Employment Court Chief Judge Inglis considers that it should.

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