It is only fair that after profiling Judith Anne Collins in a previous column that we look at another legal aficionado, this time from the Labour Party. Cue Helen White who is standing for Auckland Central. White is no champagne socialist - or soy latte socialist as I like to call it - because she "doesn't soy-latte, [she] just lattes".
One of her three children - who have not been private-schooled despite popular belief - may be a vegetarian, but it is best not to get bogged down on semantics. Instead, said child should be applauded for her principles, White says.
Arguably White earns a decent wage as a lawyer but, following a break-up, a giant mortgage is keeping her busy, and it means she works fulltime as an employment lawyer on top of campaigning for this year's election.
Ultimately, she comes from a strong belief that everyone should have the right to earn a decent wage.
"It shouldn't be about giving to the poor. We shouldn't be proud of needing to feed children in schools - any parent should be able to earn a decent wage to do so. It's a human rights issue". Music to my ears.
White completed a BA in history and LLB (Hons) at Auckland University. While volunteering for various social justice groups she realised law could be a great vehicle for providing justice to people on the ground.
White began her career at the Law Commission but realised she wanted to practise law from the coalface, so she took up a position at Ellis Gould Lawyers - which is known for "having a drop-dead gorgeous view of the harbour".
But it was her time at the Union Law Centre from 1995-1997 where the lawyer of more than 25 years found a love of employment law. She went on to work at Yolland Gubb & Co, then EPMU in an in-house capacity under Andrew Little between 2001 and 2006. Throughout that time she was instrumental in preventing the proposed restructures at Air New Zealand that would have contracted out the work.
"The cases took over my life. Air NZ planned to outsource all maintenance to China, and the restructuring was to extend to front of house staff and even cleaners. Had those changes occurred we would have a totally different business now."
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"Employment is my jam"
Suppose White gets elected, she hopes to revolutionise the employment legal framework. To start, she wants to address access justice issues. "The very system was set up to protect lower-paid workers and it is virtually impossible to pursue action without extensive legal bills."
She recalls a case where two dairy factory workers were fired after performing the Harlem shake during their break as it was seen as a health and safety issue. She managed to get the employees reinstated, but had they not been backed by a union, there would be no way for them to pay legal fees.
While 90 per cent of employment cases are settled, you must question on what terms, White says.
"You need to earn lots of money to pursue justice. If you're earning less than $100,000 a year, I can tell you, you're not going to get very far. It's ironic that you have to have loads of cash to fight for your job.
"There are also no real rules or record-keeping when dealing with the Employment Relations Authority [ERA]. You're dealing with spaghetti. Sometimes the authority can make a call that a case is so important it should go to court, but that is very narrow."
Then there is the issue of being able to get another job.
"People are really scared to go through the process for fear of reputational damage, and for good reason. If you put your hand up for wrongdoing in this country, you'll receive an aggressive attack 99 percent of the time."
As far as the ERA is concerned, White thinks there is no reason to release the names of those bringing forth cases. It has been done in the Family Court, and more recently has become an option for tenants who use the Tribunal because of changes in the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill passed under urgency last week.
On getting into politics
White will have to leave her barrister role (she set up camp in 2006) if she gets elected, which is bittersweet but her experience in law may help her make real change, she says.
"I was really inspired by John Campbell's segment on homelessness. I was on Queen Street and walking past these alienated, disenfranchised people. At one end you see the general public frustrated by the issue of homelessness, but you have to think bigger and look at changing the structure.
"It's a social justice issue, requiring a structural response. We need to ask why this is happening and how do we fix it."