The operation of the Employment Tribunal: An investigation of the personal grievance adjudication procedure under the Employment Contracts Act 1991
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The passage of the Employment Contracts Act by the National government in 1991 caused considerable controversy amongst trade unions in New Zealand and legal practitioners. I decided to examine whether the government had met its stated intentions to create a straight-forward, cheap, and accessible system for resolving personal grievances. Therefore the main questions to be asked related to what people’s experiences were using adjudication under the Act, and whether the system adequately resolved personal grievance issues. In particular, I focused on the experiences of participants using the personal grievance adjudication procedure. The question of whether the process actually worked for participants could be measured by examining available access to the system in terms of cost and accessibility of representation. Another factor to be considered related to whether ultimate conclusions reached by the employment tribunal adequately addressed the issues raised. For example – did grievance receive adequate compensation? What were the costs involved to the parties and did the grievant have suitable employment? This research investigated whether the personal grievance adjudication system work in the manner intended by the government of the day for those participants. Interviews with employment tribunal adjudicators were a crucial art of determining whether or not the adjudication process worked successfully. Adjudicators were very open and willing to participate, and a considerable amount of unexpected, useful information was forthcoming. Surveys of participants in 150 personal grievances which occurred in 1997 supported the information provided by adjudicators. Data obtained from researching all personal grievance and cost decisions in 1997 provided xv quantitative support to the comments made by adjudicators, and those received by survey participants. The wide range of research methodologies used in conducting this thesis gives some credence to the conclusions reached as the range of processes used covered many different aspects of the adjudication system and how it affected participants in an unprecedented manor. The research conducted by Ian McAndrew in Otago covered the entire period during which the Employment Contracts Act 1991 was enforced. However, the questions asked in this thesis have tended to be more specific. In summary, my research has suggested that whether or not the Employment Contracts Act 1991 adjudication system worked largely depended on circumstances of each individual participant. Members of the legal profession felt most at home using adjudication, whilst many applicants and some respondents felt varying degrees of trepidation. Likewise, the views of adjudicators regarding the success of the system often depended on their background and experience.
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