Human rights at forefront in NZ

00:24, Mar 24 2014
Mary-Jane Thomas
Southland Times Work to Rule employment law columnist Mary-Jane Thomas

The difference between our country and a significant proportion of the rest of the world is illustrated by two recent headline stories.

The New Zealand Human Rights Tribunal awarded $25,000 to a prostitute who was subjected to sexually discriminative comments by her boss (are they still called pimps?) over three months that amounted to sexual harassment.

There was no physical touching but the employer asked the most "intimate of questions", which damaged her self- esteem.

The plaintiff in this matter was a sex worker. She worked for a time at a brothel. She started work in October 2009 and for a while things went OK. After a while she would often be asked to help new workers and show them the ropes. She would always tell them about the support they could get from New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, such as free health checks and the like.

Apparently the manager of the brothel was not happy about this and on several occasions yelled at the plaintiff, telling her not to tell other workers about the collective. The evidence was that about once a week he would take the plaintiff aside and "have a go at her" about something, mostly about the collective.

In late April 2010, the manager took the plaintiff off her Saturday night shift and placed her on Sunday day shift. The plaintiff was not happy about the change because, apparently, Sundays were usually quiet and there was only one other woman working the Sunday shift. As a result the plaintiff spent a lot of time in the lounge and would often be there alone.


She told the tribunal that during a three-month period on Sundays the manager would come up to her and make comments to her about her body and about her and him engaging with other sex workers. The plaintiff said the manager made a lot of comments of a sexual nature about what he liked doing and what he wanted to do and this made her feel uncomfortable.

The tribunal found that $25,000 appropriately compensated the plaintiff for sexual harassment suffered during a period of three months and in which the plaintiff was asked the most intimate of questions and suffered real damage to her self- esteem.

Meanwhile, if you work as cabin crew for Qatar Airways and Emirates Airlines, you are forbidden (yes, read forbidden) from marrying during the first five years of your employment with the firm.

It is not clear to me whether the employer is concerned that marriage decreases female attractiveness or whether it is thought that unmarried people work harder.

After I got married and had children, I was described by my husband as being a breach of the Fair Trading Act, thus perhaps there is a concern that marriage and children decrease one's physical attractiveness.

According to airline spokesman Mr L Baker "you know they've come there to do a job and we make sure that they are doing a job that they give us a good return on our investment".

Note for Mr Baker - most single women I know are less likely to attend to their job diligently due to the fact that they have a "social life" outside work. Married women are actually far less likely to be out and about on weekends, etc, on the ran-tan because they have already found a husband (before people complain - tongue in cheek).

Apparently in addition to this, if you become pregnant in the first three years, you have to leave. So let us see. If you get employed by Emirates, not only can you not get married within the first five years but you cannot become pregnant in the first three years (way to weed out single parenthood).

Compare this with New Zealand, where it was decided that a woman legitimately making a living out of having sex with strangers was entitled to be compensated when her employer asked her non-work-related questions about such things as body hair.

» Mary-Jane Thomas is a partner at Preston Russell Law. E-mail questions to

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