How to free Māori from blue-collar job bias

By D'Angelo Martin

A significant new report is offering ideas that might stop Maori ending up in hard-labour, low-skills jobs.

Tokona Te Raki (Maori Futures Collective) executive director Dr Eruera Tarena says the Whano report isn't necessarily looking at solving Māori unemployment but rather tackling the underlying causes of inequalities ingrained in New Zealand. 

A future that will create opportunities for Māori to thrive in an ever-changing economy was the ambition for the Whano report, which looks at strategies and starts a discussion about how Māori can lead Aotearoa. 

The report was a collaborative effort between Waikato-Tainui, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and economic consultancy  Business and Economic Research Ltd (BERL).  It collected and analysed data to show insights into the systemic and structural bias that resulted in limited educational achievement and opportunities both in the past and today.

"If we look back to the 1960s Māori were the ones in factory-type jobs, construction and hard labour. It isn't to disrespect those who stood before us and worked in those positions but the outcome is that it has created a long-term trauma for Māori in terms of a lack of employment opportunities,"  Tarena says.

Three ingredients for change

The report explores the impacts known to affect the workforce in Aotearoa, which led to why there is lack of employment opportunities for Māori. "Māori are more likely to end up in hard-labour, low-skill jobs and, in terms of the paycheck at the end of the week, it isn't much."

The report offers a vision for what a changed future might look like and offers three key ingredients to achieve it: an authentic Treaty partnership between Māori and the Crown; a system that delivers, and measures skills and competencies, not just qualifications; and equal access to life-long learning.

"The assumption that Māori are only fitted and suited best to hard-working labour type employment is where the underlying racial behaviour exists, which had an effect on those in the past but also lingers on to this generation," Tarena says.

Between the 2013 and 2018 censuses, the number of working Māori in Aotearoa increased by 50 per cent and in 2018 Māori made up 14 per cent of the total working-age population. This growth is predicted to continue.

"Māori are so under-represented in higher-skilled jobs such as being a doctor or a lawyer. We have a unique opportunity using this resource to create a framework for future prosperity that is equitable and thriving. Let's work together to ensure history doesn't repeat."