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    After the Employment Taskforce
    What our subscribers think ...

    from The Jobs Letter No.21 / 17 July, 1995

    We have asked a cross-section of our subscribers to comment on the multi-party political accord following the Prime Ministerial Taskforce on Employment, and to evaluate the whole Taskforce process : Are we any better off after eighteen months of consultations and recommendations ?

    Prime Ministerial Employment Taskforce Member,
    and the Mayor of Christchurch.

    What I saw the Employment Taskforce report as offering was some real hope. As being part of those meetings that were held around the country, and a part of what they came up with in their report, what I saw was we produced a document that actually says we are going to beat this unemployment thing, and we can beat it by the year 2000 where everybody will have the opportunity to have a job after they have been unemployed for no longer than six months.

    I felt it said that there was some light at the end of the tunnel and here's how we are actually going to get there and I felt that right throughout the country there was amazing passion about the whole thing. Here was sort of a mix of passionate concern, as well as some areas verging on despair.

    I felt that the Employment Taskforce report picked up that passion and it was a document of real hope. But I don't feel excited or uplifted in any way by the multi-party response document. It is mechanistic, and bland, and you struggle to finish reading it.

    When reading it I didn't feel any sense of urgency or grunt or oomph or passion or real sense of yes! we can beat this. That had all disappeared into a myriad of specific responses to specific recommendations, and in fact some of the major guts of the Taskforce report weren't in the recommendations part. I remember a number of people from a number of those centres we visited, and I can't see any real change in their lives that's going to come about as a result of this response.

    I guess that there is a lot of cynicism about taskforces in general, and I think that by going out there and saying that we actually do care about this, we raised people's expectations anyway. I felt that we delivered reasonably well on those expectations in terms of what we said had to be done. We were a pretty mixed group politically.We were a multi-party in ourselves with nine people of very different viewpoints. We went right across the political spectrum and even getting an agreement amongst us was sometimes challenging.

    The multi-party didn't address the question of: Do you have a commitment to ending unemployment by the year 2000 ? Are they, as three parties, really all committed to doing it ?

    If there is an absolute commitment to this goal, then somebody needs to be driving the process. At the moment, nobody actually has the job of working for full employment. The Employment Taskforce suggestion was to have an Employment Commissioner - like Don Brash's job - someone who was going to get in there and make it happen nationally, and also the equivalent of these people at a local level. It doesn't need to be this mechanism, but it was hard enough to find the one that was recommended.

    I felt that, if, as a country, we could say that we are really wedded to getting rid of inflation ... here's our commitment to price stability, here's the mechanism by which we're going to do it, and, boy, are we going to do it. Then we can do exactly the same thing in employment. I have no doubt that it can be done. I am totally persuaded that it can be done.

    The other thing was that the Taskforce report was about local initiatives. Economic recovery won't fix the problem of unemployment. You have got to take interventionist measures, and you are probably going to have very different ones in each area, and, for goodness sake, encourage that... and get in there and make it happen.

    The words in the Employment Taskforce report were about local decision-making and local control. The multi-party document has taken that out and instead talks about local co-ordination and responsiveness. Now that is radically different. They are still thinking of this as being national solutions and that Palmerston North is the same as Dunedin which is the same as Northland. It was so evident to us in the Taskforce that these communities were not the same, and what was going to work was not going to be the same. They've tried it that way with national programmes for a million years, and it hasn't worked.

    I feel that central to the Employment Taskforce exercise was that we wanted a commitment to doing it by the year 2000, and here's the steps that you've got to take, here's the cost of them, here's some mechanisms that you have got to put in place, and here is the strategy that you've got to have these things driven locally. I feel these were all important factors in a total equation. And they just don't feel like they are quite there in the final document.

    Auckland Unemployed Workers Rights Centre spokesperson.
    The multi-party agreement won't help unemployed people one little bit until and unless Government makes some commitments to its implementation.

    We've been waiting since the Employment Taskforce report was released in November last year for some sign of activity on the government's part. Now all they're doing is putting off any decisions on how they'll actually help the unemployed. In last year's budget, the government allocated $9 million extra assistance to those out of work. They year they allocated nothing. The whole Taskforce process seems to have been a way for National to make it look like they're doing something about unemployment, while nothing happens.

    We are of course pleased to see the recommendation that the stand down period for those who voluntarily leave their job or are sacked will be cut from 26 to 13 weeks, but ask why this could not be put in place immediately, rather than be left for the indefinite future.

    The government has continually promised action on changing the abatement regime to make it easier for unemployed and other beneficiaries to get back into work, but once again all we have are promises and no definite proposals.

    In terms of lifting the Community Taskforce wage from $15 to $20 a week, we would have much preferred the multi-party group to scrap Community Taskforce altogether, rather than support the continuation of a scheme in which unemployed people are forced to work for three days a week for this meagre amount on top of their benefit.

    Should the Alliance and/or Labour become the government in the near future, we hope they will abolish Community Taskforce, along with implementing some of the better proposals emanating from the multi-party discussions.

    Fine promises are nothing new to the unemployed. We've been hearing them from Labour and National Governments since 1984. Until we see some positive action being taken we will remain distrustful of this latest agreement.

    Jo Maniapoto and Associates, Wanganui
    My comment is to ask whether the government will actually pursue the recommendations that are there and will back them up with resources ? It is all very well to say that a range of things need to be done, but we've seen all that since the 1980's. The dilemma I have as someone who's been around for a while and heard all these promises - how often have we seen them come to the party ? Not many times.

    I do think the overall Taskforce process was a really good one. I think they were very thorough. I also was impressed by the way the Taskforce went out and canvassed opinions from people like groups of trainees so that they got other information which you don't get in a forum. Things like that were really good. But I am left a little sceptical.

    Executive Director of Mature Employment Service, Porirua
    In general I'm disappointed. I'd have to say that for the time the multi-party has taken to produce this report after the Taskforce has done their job, it is most disappointing. When you read it alongside the recent Budget from the Minister of Finance where there's not even one mention of funding for any of these sort of initiatives, you can see that this government is not very interested in unemployed people.

    Nothing is really different today because of the Taskforce process. I know that sounds very negative, because I know we are also putting people into work. But when the Taskforce was first mooted, we were very positive that something might come out of it, that this group will help us get on with our job to get people back into work through all the ways that we do it. But at the end of the day, I can't say there's any real initiative in there.

    From our point of view there's one or two things there that may be of interest, such as the suggestion that NZES contract out some of their services, but we'll be very interested to see where and what and when they do that. There's alot of strategy there for young people, Maori and Pacific Island people, but from the mature employment point of view - most disappointing.

    I would like to see the government really do what the Taskforce recommended to do. It seems to me that it will take a change of government to actually do something positive.

    Chief Executive Officer of Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust, West Auckland.
    The Taskforce process has been one of those big counselling sessions for those who are most likely to make government policy work properly. It was a massive outpouring of energy and knowledge in the hope that it would have some effect. But it didn't nail anything home for us. It was all academic and ephemeral as far as I'm concerned. I'm a pragmatist that operates out here in the street. I liked the gloss, but where was the action and implementation strategy, and where do we interface with it ? These are essential questions.

    There is nothing that has changed overall. Even this Youth Action package is having no impact. It sounds good. It makes bureaucrats and politicians feel comfortable, but where is the impact on the street ?

    The amount of paper that was produced in the Taskforce exercise was extraordinary. It would be interesting to work out what the whole process cost in the voluntary sector contributions and cost out the voluntary hours which were absolutely enormous, cost out what it actually cost to run the Taskforce, and the cost of the officials, the analysts, and the Minister's times in working this through over the eighteen months... and then compare this with the outputs that have been produced.

    They have done this sort of thing to the Maori community year in and year out since 1984, and what happens is that everybody gets hyped up and puts alot of energy and commitment into some go-forward ideas - but what happens to all those ?

    We had the belief that we were going to be active participants in active change. Now that's been a big dupe-ing. That's why we don't put any energy into these things anymore. We're putting a lot more into actual political change which you will start to see quite dramatically in the next 3-6 years in Maoridom. Once we're disciplined enough to take a piece of the action, then we'll go for it.

    General Manager of the Auckland New Venture Trust
    I thought the Taskforce consultations were very wide and quite comprehensive, but it has taken a long time between the beginning of it, and this final point. It seems the multi-party group has agreed with most of the Taskforce recommendations, but there is no action plan on how it is going to be done, apart from leaving it to the government of the day to carry it out.

    I feel its good that they have agreed to the proposals - I thought they were good proposals - but I'm disappointed that there wasn't really any plans for action there. The report is endorsing improving co-ordination and local responsiveness. But it is just saying `shoulds' when I want to ask `how' now. And I am still left feeling : Where to from here ?

    Manager of the Hamilton Enterprise Agency, Chairperson of COMMACT Aotearoa
    One of the good things that has come out of the Taskforce is that it has got communities together whereas they may not have. We were quite involved in the Taskforce here, we had a couple of our team members involved in it, and we had marvellous attendances here at our meetings. And people are still saying that if even we are not going to do something nationally, we are going to work better in our own communities. I think that has to be a major plus for it.

    We are a bit disappointed about the time that it all took. I think it took far too long. I believe that people have lost their enthusiasm for what the Taskforce was set up to do. I don't think the community is finding any credence in it.

    I do think that too often we can all be negative about what's out there without finding a better way of using it. I feel that some of the programmes that the government already has in place, like Taskforce Green, they could well be utilised more by employers to assist people to do training. We try and work very hard with what is there to use ... we ask how can we make it work to the best advantage of our community.

    The government has got some things that are right. Unemployment is trending down in some areas, but it is in the areas of skilled people and not the unskilled. and I think that there has to be a lot of emphasis on training employers as to how they can best benefit from taking on people to train them for skills. Government can do a lot to help there.

    Manager of Employment Services Unit, Christchurch City Council
    We all got in behind the Taskforce process because we saw that maybe we were going to work with change, maybe we were going to have a say. The Taskforce did manage to talk to as many people as possible and they got an enormous amount of public opinion and input from various groups on the employment issue.

    All the reports that were produced had been very heartening. They were looking at a global view - the whole overall picture. For someone who is working in the area, I found the Taskforce process and the report very positive. People were really saying sensible things, and they really were trying to grapple with a complex and difficult problem - nobody said it would be easy. They all appreciated the complexity of the whole thing. And they were saying we have to shift our ideas and values about employment.

    So the process itself was good, but I'm disappointed at what has come out of it at the end. I think it's all been watered down quite considerably, and it's not strong enough in its commitment. It isn't clear to me that there really is a commitment to full employment or to people more fully participating in their communities.

    The multi-party statement doesn't say anything specific about real local programme delivery and that's a concern for us. We are concerned about our ability to deliver things locally rather than adapting a national scheme to a local context. We want real local control. It's a disappointment that there hasn't been agreement reached on the need for local programmes and the need for a local delivery mechanism. We would have hoped that the parties could have advanced it further by working out how that local delivery mechanism could work.

    The idea of commissioners was one idea on how to do this. It may not be the best idea, and it was a way that may not be the same for every area, but we could look at it and maybe improve on it. We were also keen on the Local Action Group Idea - where there could be a group of all the main players involved which would take action on the ideas, and have the authority and funds to do that.

    It is disappointing that there doesn't seem to be any strategic focus in the multi-party agreement. That's what makes it different from what the Taskforce put out. The Taskforce proposals represented a strategy - you can't just take this bit and fix a part of it, without looking at the whole. This is fundamental, otherwise you are just fixing and fiddling with bits of the problem here and there. If you have a commitment to full employment, then you put in place strategies to start that rolling ... and that's what the Taskforce report did. All these things have to be plugged in together, and then we will achieve our goals.

    It doesn't seem to me as though it is going to be delivered like that. It seems that too much is being left to the government of the day to interpret. And once you do that, you're part of the political process again, aren't you ?

    National Manager Salvation Army Training and Employment Programmes
    We are certainly disappointed that, with all the work and effort that's gone into producing the document and the Taskforce, there doesn't seem to be very much commitment on government's part to do anything concrete with it, and that's a concern for us.

    We put in fairly extensive submissions to the Taskforce, and we think that in some indirect way a few of our suggestions have been incorporated into their recommendations. We ensured that we attended all the meetings possible around the country with our respective managers, and so there was good input as well as a national submission that co-ordinated all our responses.

    All this money has been spent, and this group has gone around the country and they have put a good amount of work into their 120 recommendations ... and then very little seems to be taken aboard. Or if it is being taken aboard ... the public is being left in the dark on what they're prepared to do about it. There's not much commitment to put more money into this area.

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