Thursday, February 24, 2005

Moko Mployment

A woman with a moko is refused a job because it 'wouldn't be good for business'. ACT MP Stephen Franks says: "Any New Zealander, of course, should be free to wear a moko...But equally, we should all take personal responsibility for the consequences of our decisions...It is well-established that freedom of association also means freedom from forced association. Those who disagree with a fashion or political statement should be free to ensure they don't have it shoved in their face all the time, on their own premises and with their customers." Is it illegal? I suspect not. I doubt that it could be proven to be racial discrimination, although it is interesting to consider what the reaction would have been, had it been an Islamic woman might have had to remove her burqa in order to work with customers, or whether it was an Indian woman with one of those red dots (displaying my ignorance) in the middle of her forehead. I would agree that the moko is a 'political statement' in that for this woman, it links her with her whakapapa and distinguishes her bloodline and makes a statement. It's obviously also a cultural statement, in that a Pakeha person would be less inclined to display their geneology on their chin in ink. From that perspective, I would feel quite comfortable labelling it cultural discrimination. On the other side, employers are responsible for employing the most suitable workers for their business. If a cafe owner in an affluent district with an exclusively white, rich clientele is hiring wait staff, they would be be justified in making a sound business choice by making a decision based on visual tatoos on an applicant. If that unfairly excluded any Maori/PI applicants (try all one of them, for example), then that would be unfortunate. Maybe not illegal, but certainly bigoted. Take a lawyer's firm wanting a receptionist. If they want to project a professional image, they are entitled to seek someone who scrubs up well. They are not allowed to hire a girl over a guy, nor are they allowed to hire a Pakeha over a Maori. They'd probably be allowed to decline a white male with visual tatoos in favour of another white male without, but the test becomes unstuck when the white male becomes a Maori female. The issue of facial tatoos is complex because it can extend across races and is not the sole domain of Maori people. I think an employer is justified in not employing someone with facial tatoos, but only if it makes good business sense. Which means, the employer has to be convinced that the facial tatoos would provide a 'net' worse off effect than had the employer someone perhaps less siutable, but without facial tatoos. It obviously only applies where contact with 'external customers' is a matter of course in day to day business. Take for example a Pakeha with 'recreational' tatoos on their face. While not overtly 'cultural', the whole concept of facial tatooing can be cast in a cultural light, whatever the reason or motivation behind the tatoo is. The reason that it has not been an issue before, is that people with tatoos on their faces have generally either not been interested in jobs where it became an issue, OR were never suitable applicants in the first place. Note, an inherited (and now-changing) association of the moko with Maori political activism and criminal activities. Personally, I think the employer displayed an attitude of prejudice. Not even completing the interview is a real give away, and as such she has put herself in the wrong from the start. If she carried the interview process through due course with all applicants, then all it would prove are the nature of opinions (and resulting loss) of the employer and her customers, however it would be very difficult to prove that cultural discrimination took place, without obtaining interview notes on which a daft employer would have to a) specify the tatoo b) not destroy c) hand over to the courts. The verdict Personally, I think it would be cool to have someone with a full blown moko working with me. A very very good conversation starter, but it only works with people who aren't scared of brown skin or ink. I wouldn't be able to stand working in a place that felt a woman like her wouldn't be good for business. My sympathies go out to the woman, because I think she was hard done by. But Groucho rears his head again: better to find out now what work would have been like, rather than later.


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