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Haka and the Rugby World Cup - appropriate behaviour required

The Dominion Post - Saturday, 8 October 2011

Springboks coach Peter De Villers has said that the haka is in danger of losing respect because it is performed too often. His comment followed the rugby teams’ welcome to Opotaka, said to be the birthplace of the Ka Mate haka, near Lake Taupo. The Springbok team were welcomed by the local iwi, Ngati Tuwharetoa. The 70-strong Springbok touring party were given a rousing haka in pouring rain by 50 Tuwharetoa warriors performing the famous haka, said to be composed by Te Rauparaha 200 years ago as he sought shelter from a war party.

This year, Ngati Toa signed a confidential agreement with the New Zealand Rugby Union, allowing the All Blacks to continue performing its haka. A spokesperson for Ngati Toa said that the increased use of the haka both nationally and internationally was brilliant because it was identified as uniquely Kiwi. She didn’t agree the haka was suffering from over-exposure.

However, Maori opinion appears divided. Respected Maori elder Peter Love said Maori culture was being abused and he was especially unhappy with the wave of flash hakas surrounding the Rugby World Cup. Peter Love’s uncle was a former New Zealand Maori Rugby Board Chairman. Mr Love added that flash haka, including more than a dozen throughout the world in places such as Sydney and Barcelona, were misguided. The haka was a challenge, he said, not something to be performed as an expression of delight.

The public have only seen a fraction of haka being performed during the Rugby World Cup. We all see the All Blacks perform the haka but we don’t see the many teams welcomed throughout New Zealand, where the haka is undoubtedly performed.

On the rugby field, opposing teams have tried various ways of responding to the All Blacks’ challenge. Sometimes this only serves to inflame the All Blacks. In 1989, the Ireland Captain linked arms with his team mates at Lansdowne Road and led them forward so they were eyeball to eyeball with the All Blacks. Ireland lost the game. In 1996, at the Bledisloe Cup clash in Wellington, Australia turned their backs to the haka. Australia lost the game heavily. However, polite behaviour has been imposed by the International Rugby Board who has ruled that a team facing the haka must stay at least 10 metres from the halfway line.

It is important to realise that people performing for a flash haka may expose themselves to disciplinary action by their employer. All the more so if it is done during the working day.

In Australia, Senior Constable Rangi Joseph suffered disciplinary action. The Senior Constable is a New Zealander who joined a flash mob haka at a Surfers Paradise shopping mall recently while on duty.

Joseph was one of hundreds of Kiwis who performed the traditional Maori war dance at Surfers Paradise Cavill Mall on 11 September this year. The Senior Constable was apparently a former iwi liaison officer with Wellington Police. He joined the mass haka in police uniform.

The question arises that if the Constable did the same thing in New Zealand, could he be subject to discipline? Indeed, could any worker be subject to discipline if they did that?

Obviously, Maori opinion seems to be united on the haka being precious and perhaps sacred. The division on opinion arises on whether it is being performed too much and being devalued accordingly.

I think whether or not a person could be disciplined for doing the haka would depend upon whether they brought their employer into disrepute. What could a fair and reasonable employer do in terms of disciplinary action in the event that one or more of their employees performed a spontaneous haka?

There are many cases that say that if an employee engages in conduct, whether during working time or outside of it, that brings the employer into disrepute the employer is entitled to take disciplinary action.

Whether such behaviour during the festivities of the Rugby World Cup would bring an employer into disrepute would depend on the circumstances. Organisations will generally have policies or a workplace culture that dictates what can and cannot be done in uniform.

We do not know what exact action was taken against the Senior Constable on the Gold Coast, but it doesn’t appear to have been a very heavy handed response by the police authorities there. I expect that a New Zealand employer would generally be expected to show some tolerance in the circumstances of the Rugby World Cup.

Cullen - The Employment Law Firm was one of the first eleven law firms in New Zealand approved to provide employment law services to Government and the public sector.

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