War of words over Kiwi greeting

CONTROVERSIAL KIA ORA: Monet-Mei Clarke, 17, has quit her job at popular frozen yoghurt chain KiwiYo, after being told she cannot greet customers with "kia ora".
CONTROVERSIAL KIA ORA: Monet-Mei Clarke, 17, has quit her job at popular frozen yoghurt chain KiwiYo, after being told she cannot greet customers with "kia ora".

A young woman has been left ''hurt and annoyed'' after her boss told her she could not greet customers by saying ''kia ora''.

Monet-Mei Clarke resigned from her job at Whangarei's KiwiYo frozen yoghurt shop after the franchise owner told her she could not deviate from the company's standard ''Hello, welcome to KiwiYo'' greeting.

''We have three national languages - English, te reo Maori, and sign language - it's not much to ask to be able to say kia ora,'' the 17-year-old said.

''It's the first time someone has told me in New Zealand that I'm not allowed to speak Maori.''

Clarke and her family speak Maori at home, and she said her parents were shocked their daughter had this experience in her first job out of school.

The fact ''kia ora'' is banned but the business has a Maori word in its name is hypocritical, she said.

''[Te Reo Maori] should be normalised,'' she said.

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Monet-Mei's mother May Clarke said she had been in touch with KiwiYo head office about the policy.

''We said to them, 'well why don't you look at reviewing it?', but they weren't having it,'' Clarke said.

However, this evening the company did comment on the issue, on their Facebook page and in Stuff comments.

KiwiYo chief executive Norman Markgraaff said it was company policy that customers be welcomed with the scripted greeting, but the company had no problem if a staff member chose to add "kia ora" to the beginning of the presentation.

"In fact, we will actually promote the use of this form of welcome across our New Zealand stores and in our international stores, as it promotes the New Zealandness of our brand," Markgraaff said.

"I hope this position clarifies this highly emotionally charged issue, that I believe is being pulled completely out of proportion and can become political fodder which we have no intention to become involved with, and request reconciliation between the parties involved."

His response appeared at odds with the franchise operator's view of company policy.

Earlier, the owner-operator of the Whangarei franchise, Margaret Lang, said all seven KiwiYo stores have a standardised greeting that franchisees have to enforce.

''If you go to McDonald's they'll have a scripted greeting, too,'' she said.

''I'm the first one to challenge my staff if there's non-compliance with any of the rules. They're all trained to use this greeting from day one.''

Lang said she valued all her customers, many of whom were Maori.

''If it was her friends coming in then it's fine, but she chose to use this greeting on customers she didn't know,'' she said.

Lang said she was disappointed by the incident, because she considered her staff part of her family.

''I've spent a lot of money getting this up-and-running, and I've tried to bring something bright and new and exciting to Whangarei.''

Chantelle Stevenson, another KiwiYo Whangarei employee, said Lang was ''a very reasonable boss''.

''None of the other staff would be siding with [Monet-Mei],'' she said.

Whangarei-based Labour MP and Maori language advocate Kelvin Davis said he was ''stunned'' to hear of the incident.

''Te Reo Maori is an official language of this country; it is heard on the television and radio every day by news presenters and people of status,'' Davis said.

''It should not be forbidden as a welcome when serving people in a town such as Whangarei.''

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Whangarei Leader