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The President of the Pacific Lawyers Association says a level playing field in the legal sector is a must for the Pacific legal community in New Zealand.
Arti Chand’s comments follow the recent publication of the 2023 Workplace Environment Survey prepared for the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) in October.
The survey was created to measure general legal workplace wellbeing, assess the current workplace environment in relation to sexual harassment, bullying, and employment discrimination.
While the survey shows some improvement with 75% of the legal community satisfied with their job, and 65% satisfied with their work-life balance, the data for the Pacific legal community is still a concern.
Pacific peoples are nearly three times as likely as non-Pacific peoples to face employment discrimination (28% vs 11%). This is even higher among Pacific women (32%).
Work-life balance is lowest among Pacific peoples at 51% and 60% Pacific peoples are less likely than average to feel their manager cares about their wellbeing.
And while the workplace culture appears to have improved, those aged under 30, Pacific peoples, Asian peoples, and Māori are more likely to feel change is needed.
Arti Chand says the findings are not a surprise and little has changed.
“Our initial thoughts were really unsurprising and disappointing. In 2018 when the NZLS did its last survey, it was pretty evident from the data that Pacific lawyers were facing discrimination and bullying in the legal workplace and so were Asian lawyers and Maori lawyers but Pacific lawyers were up there. Fast forward to 2023 and we’re featuring again in this data.”
Despite the results, Arti says there has been progress for Pacific in recent times with the appointment of the former president of the law society, Tiana Epati. The first person of colour to take up the position.
The appointment of judges Tania Sharkey and Ali’imuamua Sandra Alofivae to the judiciary earlier this year have also been a step forward for Pacific people and Ms Chand says it is important to celebrate these milestones.
However she adds, “what we are finding is that we still don’t have enough Pacific lawyers in senior positions within the legal workplace. We still don’t have a lawyer who is a King’s Counsel, we still don’t have a Pacific person who is a high court judge, so yes there’s progress but what we are seeing from this is that progress is slow and we just need that to accelerate a little bit.”
In a written statement, Law Society Chief Executive Katie Rusbatch says, these survey results provide important insights into the key issue of workplace safety and culture. It is encouraging to see some signs of progress, although the survey shows there’s still a lot more to do.”
Arti says she is proud of the work the Pacific Lawyers association do for the Pacific legal sector in New Zealand and says they will continue to be a voice for Pacific lawyers.
“What we really find with our association is that our members look at it as a way to celebrate what we have, the collegiality, the togetherness, celebrating the success of Pasifika lawyers that’s what we are here for and that’s what we want to give more visibility to.
The challenges that we face, we need to raise awareness and talk about it but we also need to prioritise sharing our celebrations to the wider legal profession and the community so that people recognise the talent we have and skills that we have so that we face fewer barriers hopefully,” says Arti.