Māori TV staff to be sacked over Te Reo ability

9:21 pm on 9 November 2015

Two Māori receptionists are losing their jobs at Māori Television because they cannot speak Te Reo Māori.

Maori TV's current headquarters in the Auckland suburb of Newmarket

Maori TV's current headquarters in the Auckland suburb of Newmarket Photo: Google Maps

The two women have greeted visitors to the Newmarket-based station for a number of years, and are said to be devastated by the news.

A close friend said the women, who are middle-aged grandmothers, were both denied the opportunity to learn Te Reo Māori at school.

One of them had tried to learn Te Reo through classes offered by the television station, the friend said.

A former staffer said the women were excellent at engaging with visitors and making them feel welcome with the language ability they had.

Māori Television CEO Paora Maxwell said Māori Television had "undertaken a realignment of its strategy to support its vision for Māori language to be valued, embraced and spoken by all New Zealanders".

Mr Maxwell said all staff had the opportunity to learn Te Reo. "Māori Television has set itself the aspirational goal of having a bilingual workforce by 2020," he said.

Māori Television has six members on its executive, of whom just three are Māori language speakers.

Mr Maxwell had a reasonable level of fluency in Te Reo and, like other staff at Whakaata Māori, was working to increase his level of competency, he said.

Tamaki Makaurau MP Peeni Henare said it was hypocritical to ask the receptionists to speak Te Reo when executive members were not required to do so.

But Mr Maxwell said language requirements varied from role to role.

"Public-facing roles, like those on reception and reporters, have a higher Māori language requirement."

'Harsh' decision

Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell, to whom Māori Television reports, said it would be inappropriate to comment as this was a matter for the station's management.

But his co-leader Marama Fox, who had been welcomed into the Auckland station by the women in the past, told RNZ she thought the decision was harsh.

"These are kuia who have been part of a generation of New Zealanders and Māori who had their language stolen from them so they're been unfairly prejudiced against, something that has happened to all Māori.

"It seems a really harsh measure for kuia and, in this case, receptionists who have been there for a long time."

Mr Henare, who is also Labour's spokesperson on issues affecting Te Reo, said organisations should lead from the top not the bottom.

"I always thought there were opportunities for personal development in any work environment and that's obviously not the case here.

"It's being a hypocrite when not all senior management are matatau ki te reo and not all the staff members are fluent in Te Reo Māori. I think it's shocking."

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters said questions needed to be asked.

"They've been employed there for some considerable time, which means in all professional respects they can do their job. Now someone is adding a new criteria, and the question has to be - why?"

Many former and current staff members at Māori Television were upset and angry at the decision.

One told RNZ it was appalling that Māori women who had lost their language through no fault of their own were again being punished for having lost it.

What made this abhorrent, they said, was this time it was their own who were punishing them.