My first couple of weeks working in Auckland have shown me that although many of the overarching principles of employment law are similar in both jurisdictions there are clear differences, both in structure and substance. There is a strong emphasis on mediation and out of court settlements, with most cases going through enforced mediation and to the Employment Relations Authority before they are heard in the Employment Court. The result of this is that very few cases go to a full hearing and there are more substantial hurdles for parties to jump over before they get their day in court.
The impact of Māori culture on the law has become immediately apparent. This week I have been working on a case where the clash of Māori culture with employment and contract law is key. I have spent time learning an entirely new language as I read through correspondence, with the Māori dictionary permanently open on my computer to translate Māori phrases which are dotted throughout the file. The case relates to a Māori language preschool (which translates as Te Kōhanga Reo in Māori). Te Kōhanga Reo are charter schools operated by a Trust with Ministry of Education funding. The Māori culture is very community based and the complexity for employment lawyers is that the family (whānau) of children at the school are the employers of teaching staff as well as ‘customers’ of the school. This makes for a very complex employment and contractual relationship between the parties which is difficult to slot neatly into legal principles. It has, however, made for an interesting initiation into the New Zealand legal system and culture!
I will be seeing my first criminal hearings over the next couple of weeks and will be writing regular updates during my time in Auckland, so watch this space!