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    Essential Information on an Essential Issue

    Letter No.58

    18 April, 1997

    The Word Is Workfare. As policy development continues on NZ's own work-for-the-dole schemes, community groups and opposition parties are starting to raise questions over the details ...

    The job description for the new Regional Employment Commissioners has not yet been decided, and the new positions are expected to be advertised around October. The 'word in Wellington' is that there will be about 10-15 regions established, and the Commissioners will be "the best people for the job" and not necessarily drawn from existing Labour Department staff. Salaries for the new positions are rumoured to start at $100,000. And while the details of the job description are still being considered, Employment Minister Peter McCardle is known to favour two primary outcomes -- minimising the duration of long-term unemployment, and maximising the participation of the unemployed in community work.

  • One of the contentious aspects of this policy development stage will be in deciding whether the Commissioners will also double-up as the general managers of the new 'one-stop employment shops' which are planned to amalgamate NZ Employment Service with CEG, ETSA, and the relevant sections of Social Welfare.

  • The current Local Employment Co-ordination Committees -- set up after the Employment Taskforce report -- are still in place until the Regional Employment Commissioners are appointed in December. These committees are presently drawing up profiles of their local economy and labour markets, and focussing on co-operative ways that the different government agencies, local authorities and community groups can focus on local solutions for jobs. It is expected -- but not a fait accompli -- that these committees will continue to provide a focus of consultation and support for the new Commissioners.

    The part-time co-ordinators of these committees are presently drawn from the staff of NZES and/or CEG, but a recent cabinet decision has now given the Labour Department the flexibility to appoint people outside its own department into these key positions.

    Source -- confidential interviews by the Jobs Letter editor Vivian Hutchinson.

    The NZ Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations has produced a special edition of their Dialogue Newsletter focusing on the Beyond Poverty and Beyond Dependency conferences. It contains interviews with the key speakers at both conferences, as well as views from community participants. Copies ($5ea) are available from NZFVWO at P.O.Box 9517, Wellington phone 04-385-0981 fax 04-385-3248.

    Up to 10,000 banking jobs could be lost in NZ after sweeping changes take place in the Australian banking system. Australia is awaiting the release of a government report which is expected to recommend allowing the mergers of Australia's major banks. In New Zealand, the ANZ, WetspacTrust, the ASB and the BNZ are all Australian owned. When Westpac and Trust Bank merged, their staff numbers were reduced by a third.

    Alliance leader Jim Anderton predicts that if the Australian mergers go ahead, the job losses in NZ will "be on a scale far, far worse than has been publicly acknowledged before." Anderton: "This is the devastating result of surrendering virtually our entire banking system to overseas owners. Jobs and quality in NZ are totally at the mercy of decisions made by foreigners ..."

    Source -- The Daily News 7 April 1997 "Anderton: NZ banks in for big job losses" by NZPA

    Skill Shortages. A Tradenz paper presented to a group of business and educational leaders last year says the absence of appropriate skills is the main constraint on exporters achieving their potential -- and is an effect more serious than other well-publicised issues such as the effects of the exchange rate or availability of finance.

    The paper's author, strategic development manager Chris Mitchell, says that the NZ economy has the opportunity over the coming decade to change much more than it has. Mitchell: "We don't have the skills mix needed to maximise the opportunities that this change will bring ..."

  • The Tradenz paper reports that some of our most significant exporters in the electronics areas claim that the skills shortage is by far the most significant constraint on their potential for growth. Anecdotal examples: At the end of last year five electronics companies in Christchurch had 120 vacancies in technical areas. Companies in other regions had up to 20 vacancies that were not filled for more than six months.

  • Other examples: There are 3-5 jobs for every food technology graduate, and seafood companies are having difficulty finding skilled technicians. Science graduates who have majored in forestry can command entry-level wages of $35,000 because demand is so high.

  • Mitchell says that employment and career opportunities have not been clearly communicated to the current or future workforce: "It is clear we are not producing sufficient skilled technologists for our current needs, much less for our future needs ..."
    Source -- The Dominion 9 April 1997 "Employers short on skilled staff" by Anna Smith

    Canadian writer John Ralston Saul has been in NZ to promote his new book The Unconscious Civilization (Penguin, $21.95) in which he compares new right economics to a religion, whose arguments are "entirely structured on the basis of superstition".

    Saul says that one of the reasons people feel powerless today is that they don't have any control over the language of the debate: "The technocrats hurl their loaded economic arguments and ordinary people can't take part in the debate. The religious language of orthodox economics insists that there is only one solution to the problem and indeed only one way of thinking about it. It excludes doubt, error, and slow and careful discussion -- all qualities that are essential parts of democracy..."

    Saul notes that the technocrats insist that we have either beaten unemployment or that we are well on the way to doing so ... when actually the total rate of unemployment in the West is about 10% or 35m people, and running at a level that we cannot sustain either economically or socially. Saul: "The deeply obfuscating language blinds us both to the real problems and possible solutions ..."

    Sources -- Sunday Star-Times 30 March 1997 "Free market heretic spreads word" by Anthony Hubbard, and also The Dominion 31 March 1997 "Crusade against market rule" by Alan Samson; New Zealand Herald 29 March 1997 "Fascism without all the goose-stepping" by Gordon McLaughlin.

    Coming hard on the heels of the new work-tests for single parents was a Panorama TV documentary shown on TV1's Assignment programme which quoted research claiming that children whose mothers work full-time are twice as likely to fail in their school exams as those with mothers who stay at home.

    The claim was based on research by Professor Margaret O'Brien of the University of North London. Since the Panorama interview, she has been besieged by journalists seeking interviews with the woman who supposedly prepared to stand up for old-fashioned family values and admit, with scientific proof, that a woman's place in the home. The trouble is ... Professor O'Brien believes no such thing, and she is shocked by the way she was portrayed in the TV documentary.

  • O'Brien says she was originally interviewed about the role of fathers, on which she is regarded as an expert ... not on working mothers. She was filmed over two days and talked about the impact of long working hours on parents, the need for statutory parental leave, day-care provision and after-school activities. These things didn't make the programme. Instead, she says she was pushed into saying that working mothers should give up their jobs.

    Panorama backed this up by focussing on a specific piece of research based on a few hundred families in a poor area of London. They then went on to make the broad generalisations that are leading to a growing 'urban myth' that schooling suffers when both parents have jobs. O'Brien says that her research would never yield these conclusions: "My sample area was poor, very white, and with many fathers in manual jobs. I wouldn't generalise from this to anywhere else. In better-off areas I would expect very different results ..."

    Source -- The Guardian Weekly 16 February 1997 "A Mothers Lament", originally from The Observer.
  • Following the Panorama broadcast in Britain, the early childhood organisation Daycare Trust produced a report to say that 'poverty', and not maternal neglect was the most serious threat to childhood development. Their report suggests that working parents " ... need help, not guilt."

  • Geriden Roberts of the Family Policy Studies Centre commented to Panorama that if you ask whether children are effected by too much parental working, then it doesn't necessarily mean that you want to put women "back in the kitchens". Roberts: "You may actually want to make the men and women who are parenting both work less hard, and to develop more reasonable work schedules that fit around their families better. This is the dilemma for the 1990s ..."
    Source -- Panorama programme on Assignment TV1 3 April 1997

    Labour's Steve Maharey disputes the 'official' size of the dole queue, after it was revealed last month that some people struck off the unemployment register were in fact still not working. In answering questions by Maharey put to a Parliamentary Select Committee, the General Manager of NZES, Tony Gavin, said that "clients" moving from the dole to other benefits dropped off the unemployment register, even though they had no job. He said that NZES had no way of knowing what happened when beneficiaries transferred to other benefits.

    Maharey pointed out another anomaly in the figure-keeping: long-term unemployed returning from training courses or work experience were classified as newly unemployed when they went back on the register. As well as distorting the figures, Maharey says this system is unfair: "It's ridiculous that some people come back from courses and are not entitled to some of the benefits offered to the long-term unemployed..."

    Source -- The Dominion 27 March 1997 "MPs query accuracy of dole figures" by Jonathon MacKenzie

    Even though the 'official' unemployment figures have dropped markedly in Britain, it looks as though unemployment will still be a key issue in the coming elections. The stats: unemployment is now at the lowest level since 1990 with $1.75m people jobless or 6.2% of the workforce. Long-term unemployment however is still a major issue -- with one fifth of the British unemployed never having had a paid job. Labour's Tony Blair says he will appoint a cabinet-level "Minister of Jobs", a post scrapped by PM Major who merged the employment and education ministries.
    Source -- The Economist 22 March 1997 "Working" editorial by the Economist editors.

    In Britain, few people take the 'official' unemployment numbers at their face value. Most commentators now refer to the figures as "claimant count unemployed" or "headline unemployment", because the count is not of people without a job, but people claiming a benefit.

    Even the Office for National Statistics (ONS) admits that the figures are being affected by the policy changes which are replacing the Unemployment Benefit with the Job Seekers Allowance (which is harder to claim). The deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, concedes that this policy change may explain up to half of the recent fall in unemployment. The ONS is unable to offer an estimate of the real unemployment trend -- saying that its ministers have not asked it to produce one.

    Source -- The Guardian Weekly 30 March 1997 "What should have been good news ..."

    While the US economy is soaring and regularly creating 200,000 or more new jobs a month, job losses are also running at their fastest pace in 15 months, according to the leading outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. The firm tracks job cuts throughout the US, and in March, 50,000 workers lost their jobs, up 34% on the previous March.
    Source -- Reuters 8 April 1997 "Job Cuts Soar to 15-month high, survey says" from the internet.


    "I have never said that I want to copy overseas workfare experiences, and nor will I, for two reasons.
    "Firstly, the introduction of the community wage and training allowance is a small part of a far-reaching employment policy which is a New Zealand solution to a New Zealand problem. It is derived from years of professional experience in working with job-seekers in New Zealand; and I have absolutely no intention of transposing another country's experience onto ours.
    "Secondly, a new approach is not about people working for their unemployment benefit. Rather, it involves replacing the unemployment benefit with an equivalent community wage or training allowance that can be used to involve the jobseeker in suitable community work and training while they are looking for work.
    "It is time to put behind us an approach where we pay fit and able job-seekers a benefit to often do nothing but lose their motivation, self esteem and dignity ...'

    -- Peter McCardle, Minister of Employment

    "There are simply not enough jobs in this country now -- at a minimum we are some 157,000 jobs short.

    "We do not believe that economic growth through a 'market-led recovery' will ever get all the NZ'ers back to work again. It is time that politicians and public servants started looking at real solutions to structural unemployment, instead of increasing their attacks on unemployed people and beneficiaries.
    "Solving unemployment should become the top priority of government and local government strategic policy. The Reserve Bank Act should be amended to make employment as important a part of the bank's role as maintaining low inflation rates.
    "In the public sector there should be a commitment to job creation which meets not only the needs of the unemployed, but also of the environment and the community. Housing, health care, education, community welfare services, public transport, development of alternative energy sources and the nurturing of the environment are all areas where work needs to be done.
    "In the private sector, there should be more positive government and business support for the development of small business, and in particular more work needs to be done on the need for development capital and affordable ongoing professional support for people setting up small business.
    "At the same time we should not look to the government for all the answers. The community sector in which groups like our People's Centres operate has a tremendous potential to create useful jobs. If this potential could be more adequately tapped through better infrastructure support, the benefits for unemployed people and the communities in which we live would be tremendous ..."

    -- Sue Bradford, co-ordinator of the Auckland Unemployed Workers' Rights Centre

    Sources -- The Daily News 1 April 1997 "Kiwi base to new scheme to help the unemployed" letter to editor by Peter McCardle; New Zealand Herald 26 March 1997 "Life on the dole is no dream -- it's a horrible nightmare" by Sue Bradford

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