Rebuilding after the Quake: Shauna McClelland, New Zealand Labor Law Attorney

Describe what your job as an labor law attorney in New Zealand is like.

In New Zealand, Labor Law is quite a specialized area of legal practice. Primarily, it involves drafting and negotiating employment agreements (both with unions and individual employees), advising employer clients on industrial action, and advising employers and employees on disciplinary processes and personal grievance claims (predominantly unjustified dismissal claims). As part of my work I do both mediations and appear on clients’ behalf in the Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court.

How did you come to your profession as a labor law attorney (what drew you to this profession)?

I began in the law as a general practitioner, where I did a mix of residential and commercial conveyance, company formations, family law, and minor criminal matters. I then moved into employment law, which I particularly enjoy because it is a specialist field. I am able to help people and build longstanding relationships with my clients.

What kind of training did you go through to become a labor law attorney?

In New Zealand, law is a four year degree although it is also quite common to do another degree at the same time, in which case it takes five years. Upon completion of the degree and if you intend to practice, it is necessary to successfully complete the Professionals Course, which takes approximately four months. If you successfully complete this course, you then apply to be admitted to the Bar.

Describe what the earthquake was like in 2011.

Both the earthquake in September, 2010 and the next major quake in February, 2011 were very difficult experiences. First, the quakes themselves were very frightening. There were a huge number of aftershocks, many of which were also quite large. I recall on the night of the 22nd of February, 2011 that the ground was moving so much that it felt as though I was on a ship on the ocean. It was simply one of those moments in life after which nothing would ever be the same again.


How did you see the quake affect the employment levels and the economy of Christchurch?

The February earthquake had a significant effect on the Christchurch labor market and economy. First, numerous businesses lost their premises. As a result, there were businesses that simply closed their doors and the staff were made redundant. Those businesses who were able to relocate often had to start almost from scratch with new infrastructure, new premises (which were often less than ideal), and with a goal of re-establishing relationships with customers and clients who were in equal disarray. In the labor market this resulted in significant restructuring and redundancy processes. The quake also resulted in a number of Christchurch people leaving the city, which has suffered approximately a 3% net loss to date.

How has the economy changed over the past two years since the quake?

The only addition I can make is to say that the combination of the global recession and the delay in the start of the Christchurch rebuilding has taken its toll on many businesses.



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