Aotearoa Legal Workers’ Union (ALWU) Releases Employment Information Report

The Aotearoa Legal Workers Union (ALWU) today released its Employment Information Report, which builds on the findings of two previous reports in 2020 and 2019.

The report finds that lawyers’ mental health continues to be affected by their work, both through workload and the professional subject matter of the work, says ALWU Co-Chair Tess Upperton.

This 2021 Employment Information Report is based on the ALWU’s 2021 Employment Information Survey of 253 legal workers, sent to each of the ALWU members in 2021. The purpose of the he survey was to collect information on salaries and working conditions of lawyers, including (and in particular) junior lawyers.

An overwhelming majority of respondents said that their own mental health (74%) or that of their colleagues (83%) had suffered because of their work. Respondents identified a range of causes ranging from stress, anxiety, unmanageable workloads, job subject matter, poor or no supervision, and feeling undervalued.

For ALWU member Amelia (not their real name), “Once the lockdown started, it became pretty clear that my well-being wasn’t important. More and more pressure were exercised on me to ensure my role was financially viable for the company and no accommodations were made considering that I was a new employee doing my best to work from home during a pandemic. Also, my employer was paying me as little as possible, while charging me as much as possible.”

“There’s some good news in the report — for example, salaries for paralegals have increased significantly over 2020, with average increases of 16% for those at major law firms,” ​​Upperton says. “Medium and small law firms followed suit, with increases of 23% and 15% respectively.”

“However, the statistics tell a different story for public sector workers. Following the Public Sector Pay Guidance 2021 (which replaced the 2020 guidance), wages have remained largely stable or have fallen. This is concerning given the high rate of inflation and the rising cost of living, and has effectively meant that some legal workers have had their wages frozen or reduced,” Upperton said.

“As a public sector lawyer, the wage freeze has significantly limited our ability to achieve pay parity with comparable sectors,” says ALWU member Harrison Cunningham. “This report adds excellent transparency on compensation rates between public and private sector legal workers. Hopefully the work of the union contributes to wage increases recognizing the current disparity and rampant increases in the cost of living,” he says.

In addition to stagnant wages in the public sector and poor mental health among legal workers, overtime continues to be a significant issue in the sector, with only 3% of respondents having ever been paid for work beyond of their normal working hours.

“When you compare that to the hours that some legal workers put in, overtime is a key area where employers can make significant improvements,” Upperton adds.

The full report can be accessed here.

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