The Employment Court has turned down an application by New Zealand Customs for information the court says would "unreasonably burden" a worker challenging his dismissal.
The worker, whose name and identifying details are suppressed, was dismissed for failing to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He recently announced he would challenge the case using principles of Māori customs and how they related to the workplace.
Part of the former employee's claim was that Customs failed to act in accordance with tikanga principles relevant to the employment relationship, including its own whanonga pono (values).
To act in accordance with tikanga is to behave in a way that is culturally proper or appropriate.
The Employment Court Chief Judge Christina Inglis has now declined a subsequent application from the Comptroller of the New Zealand Customs Service wanting a clearer explanation from the former employee.
In particular, Customs said it did not know what "other tikanga principles" the plaintiff contended were relevant and which it was alleged to have breached.
In a recent decision, Judge Inglis allowed Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa (the Māori Law Society) to join the proceedings, which challenged an earlier decision of the Employment Relations Authority.
Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa is a voluntary organisation made up of lawyers who donate their time to causes. It wanted to enter into the case on the basis it had an interest in the development of Māori legal issues, including the interplay between tikanga and western law. It said recently that the issues raised by these proceedings were of significance to its members.
Judge Inglis said in last month's interlocutory judgment that it raised relatively novel and developing issues within the employment law context.
"It was for this reason that I considered it appropriate to draw the proceedings to the attention of Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa, the Attorney-General, the Council of Trade Unions, Business New Zealand, the Human Rights Commission and the New Zealand Law Society."
Judge Inglis said it was appropriate that the application from the Law Society seeking leave to intervene was granted, with regard to the matters and their likely broader impact.
She said in relation to the latest application, she was satisfied that sufficient information had been provided to inform the defendant of the case to enable them to take steps to respond.
Judge Inglis also said there was no real risk that the defendant may face a "trial by ambush" if further particulars were not provided; and the request, if granted, would place an unreasonable burden on the plaintiff.