The New Zealand Law Society has recommended that proposed changes to MBIE's employment mediation services be trialed in one or more regional centres before being rolled out nationally.
In comments on MBIE's proposals, the Law Society says prompt, locally provided mediation services are fundamental to resolving employment disputes effectively and efficiently and ensuring equitable access to justice.
MBIE's proposals would implement a national approach to scheduling employment mediation by introduction of a mixed resourcing model of permanent MBIE employees and contract mediators.
The Law Society says some lawyers, particularly those practising in Otago, Manawatu, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and Hawke's Bay, are concerned at the proposed loss of local offices and permanent mediators in those areas.
"Practitioners advise that mediators provide excellent services and consider that the mixed model contracting proposal risks reducing mediation services rather than enhancing them."
The MBIE proposals were built upon a report by consultancy firm MartinJenkins. The Law Society obtained a copy of this report under the Official Information Act 1982.
It says a review of the report suggests that some of the base information relied upon is at odds with lawyers' experience.
"This is not a criticism of MartinJenkins. But the absence of sound, accurate up-to-date data means there is a need to move carefully to ensure the problems have been accurately identified prior to seeking solutions."
Contracting mediators from outside a region to deliver high profile/complex employment mediations may negatively impact availability, cost and quality for local clients, it says.
With the issues which have been identified, the proposed timeframe of decision-making by mid-March 2016 with a phase-in period of up to 12 months may not be sufficient to include robust testing of the model before it is implemented.
The Law Society suggests that trialing the model in one or more regional centres would be desirable.