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Tikanga and Good Faith in the Workplace

Our people and our workplaces will grow and prosper when our systems reflect those within it.  From an employment perspective, our legislation doesn’t expressly reflect our Māori workplaces or those who embody tikanga and/or Māori values.  But that doesn’t mean your employment space has to be void of tikanga.

Despite the Employment Relations Act and other employment legislation not referring to tikanga or Māori values, tikanga has been confirmed as part of our common law.  Tikanga is about doing what is right, at the right time and for the right reasons.  It can be strict or, at times, flexible, depending on the circumstances.  That sounds an awful lot like good faith - doing what is fair and reasonable.

If you want to ensure that tikanga is present in your organisation’s employment rules, just as much as it is in the everyday mahi, here are some tips:

  • Line up the paperwork - Incorporate your values and your tikanga into your paperwork; from your employment agreements to your policies, the approach to disciplinary processes or the setting of expectations.  For example, if you want to focus any disciplinary processes on restoring mana through hohou te rongo and including whānau in that, incorporate those processes into your written paperwork so that you don’t inadvertently breach your own rules and get caught out trying to find other, tika pathways.
  • Think why? - Give weight to your policies and procedures by taking time to craft them, reflect on the “why” and explain that to the team.  If their are specific tikanga behind a certain kaupapa, let people in on the rationale.  For example, if your alcohol policy is conservative to show manaakitanga, uplifting mana by not allowing people to embarrass themselves in a work setting - share that whakaaro.
  • Consistency - Do what is tika by enforcing your policies consistently and, in turn, you will be reinforcing your values.  For example, if your approach to COVID-19 is one of kotahitanga and hauora by ensuring the team stays home and stays safe, be consistent in that approach and rationale (regardless of how long any given alert level may be or how inconvenient it might be on occasion).
  • Reflect who you are - Weave your language through your communications, whether that is te reo Pākehā or te reo Māori, or just using the actual, everyday language used in the office - make your documents reflective of your workplace and don’t get too caught up on the fact that they are different from your standard off-the-shelf (or internet) employment agreement.  For example, if you will never enforce a three-day maximum for tangihanga leave, why have that in your employment agreements?

Ultimately, being a good employer is about doing what is fair and reasonable, and acting in good faith.  While our laws might be silent on it, there is nothing to stop employers being fair and reasonable through applying tikanga.  The key is to ensure that as an employer you are consistent throughout your actions, spoken word and written documentation.

Hīkoia te kōrero – walk the talk.

If you need assistance or advice on ensuring your tikanga are front and centre of your employment processes, documents and disputes, please contact Renika Siciliano. 

Renika is the Executive Director of McCaw Lewis, and leads our Māori Legal and Workplace Law teams. She can be contacted on 07 958 7429 or

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