Unfair dismissal cases rising here

Dunedin employment law specialists say the slow rise in unfair dismissal cases being brought to Otago lawyers for mediation does not appear to be abating, despite the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) recording a dramatic decline in figures nationally.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment under the Official Information Act (1982), show the number of cases of unjustified dismissal or constructive dismissal had decreased in the past three years by 12% in Auckland, 25% in Wellington and 25% in Christchurch jurisdictions.

Nationally, the number of cases had decreased from 1454 in 2010 to 1202 in 2012 - a 17% drop.

The ministry does not collect figures by region. Rather, they are collected according to jurisdictions - Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch.

Employment Relations Authority chief Alastair Dumbleton, of Auckland, said the authority was unable to isolate any particular reason for the decrease.

Despite the decrease, Webb Farry Lawyers partner and employment law specialist John Farrow said he had noticed a gradual increase in the number of employment disputes being brought to him for mediation.

He said the numbers had been increasing since the economic recession took hold.

He believed there was more discontent between employers and employees since the hard economic times kicked in, and he had found employers were not ''suffering poor performance'' like they used to.

The tough financial times were causing employers to be more proactive in addressing performance issues when they first manifest, rather than letting them lie, he said.

''Some employers have really tried to weather out the recession, but because it has lasted longer than anticipated, there has been more staff restructuring within businesses of late.''

Anderson Lloyd employment law specialist Barry Dorking had not noticed a decline in employment disputes.

He believed the national decline might be the result of disputing parties resolving their issues before they reached the Employment Relations Authority.

In the past, the Employment Relations Authority asked disputing parties to consider whether mediation would resolve their issues.

''But for the last couple of years, they've done that automatically - everyone goes through mediation.''

Mr Dorking believed about 90% of disputes were settled during mediation.

The decline in cases might also be caused by the cost of taking an employment dispute to the ERA, he said.

''Maybe more people are saying it's just not worth it.

''Most of the money they win, if they win, goes to the lawyers in many cases, and sometimes that can be accompanied by a bill for legal expenses as well.''

Mr Farrow predicted the number of employment disputes being brought to law firms in Otago would eventually follow the national trend.

He said there was often a delayed response in the number of employment disputes when the economy improved or went into recession.

He believed the economy was now on the improve and the number of employment disputes in Otago would decline as a result - but not for another 12 to 24 months.

- john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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