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    Letter No.71
    9 January, 1998

    18 December 1997

    Hundreds of NZ workers have been made redundant in the weeks before Christmas. The redundancies have hit across the board -- from Wellington City librarians to mill workers, from Levene staff to nurses.

    Employers Federation chief executive Steve Marshall says the timing of the layoffs is coincidental. He says it is an international trend that companies would constantly restructure, looking for the best way to serve their customers. Marshall says it is important people realised the industry they now worked in might not be "relevant and prosperous" in the future.

    19 December 1997

    The number of registered unemployed at NZES was 173,274 people in November, up 1.9% on the previous month, and up 9% from a year ago.

    Numbers of people on employment programmes, including Taskforce Green, Community Taskforce, Job Link, Job Connection and Job Intro are up to 8,588 people last month compared to 6,075 a year ago.

    There were 40 registered unemployed people for every notified vacancy at NZES in November. 50% of the notified vacancies were still unfilled by the end of the month.

    In South Korea, amidst a crippling financial crisis, veteran opposition leader Kim Dae-jung is elected president. He immediately announces he will abide by the tough conditions attached to an IMF bail-out package totaling a record $US60 billion.

    20 December 1997

    Bendon Hickory, NZ's largest lingerie manufacturer is to close its factory in Kamo, Whangarei, with the loss of 86 jobs.

    Trans Power, operator of the national electricity distribution system is putting off 85 staff. The redundancies began in October and will be completed by Christmas.

    In the Cook Islands, an unidentified number of public servants have been told they will lose their jobs because the government has been forced to slash $3.5m from its budget.

    Building Trades Union national secretary Ashley Russ says that Christmas lay-offs show a disregard for workers and their families at a time of financial and emotional pressure. Russ: "It devastates people on the receiving end ... It means people couldn't care less about whether a family can survive in comfort during the holiday period..."

    The NZ Council of Christian Social Services criticises Hutt City mayor John Terris for wrongly alleging that NZCCSS is calling for the Community Taskforce scheme to be abandoned. Ruth Smithies says the NZCCSS report in fact calls for the scheme to have minimum standards for it to be worthwhile. Smithies: "Our report supports the development of effective and fair employment policies. And it makes a positive contribution to the introduction of workfare by proposing a detailed code of minimum standards..."

    NZ and Canada have worked out an agreement for 400 young people aged 18-30 yrs to be able to take a year-long working holiday in each other's country. This agreement doubles the previous level of places.

    21 December 1997

    Three of the remaining five Levene homeware stores, which are trading under receivership, closed their doors today.

    A survey by the International Labour Organisation shows that women account for fewer than one in five management jobs globally, and almost always fail to reach the top of the world's most powerful corporations.

    22 December 1997

    British newspapers report that plans for a radical shake-up of Britain's welfare state have split PM Tony Blair's cabinet. Earlier this month, 47 Labour MPs rebelled against the government in a vote on plans to cut benefits for single parents.

    The IMF warns of a deepening financial crisis in Asia. It has slashed its combined growth forecasts for Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines by a whopping 3.7% to only 1.7% for 1998. IMF chief economist Michael Mussa: "Undoubtedly, people are going to feel the pain of this adjustment..."

    25 December 1997

    Christmas Day. Cabinet Ministers and officials in Wellington are holding conference calls from 3am--7am helping stitch together a NZ contribution to the international financial bailout package for South Korea.

    Auckland City Missioner Rev Richard Buttle reports that 1500 people who are facing hardship took advantage of the Mission's free Christmas dinners.

    In his Christmas address, Methodist Church president Norman Brookes says that needy NZ'ers were being turned away from hospitals, psychiatric institutions and workplaces. He likened the situation to the "no room at the inn" faced by Mary and Joseph at Christmas. .

    26 December 1997

    New Zealand is to contribute $57m of taxpayers money into the international financial rescue package for South Korea. South Korea is NZ's fifth largest trading partner 199, and the money will be given to Seoul in the form of a loan.

    In the meantime, Air NZ will suspend its four flights-a-week service between Auckland and Seoul after a spectacular drop in visitors from the region. Labour's foreign Affairs spokesman Mike Moore warns that if the Asian region falls into a financial depression "... then this country will catch pneumonia -- not the 'flu."

    All Fire Service fire-fighters -- who have been fighting staff cuts and a wage freeze for years -- have been sent a memo from their chief executive telling them to keep their personal opinions to themselves, and that they must support government policy.

    27 December 1997

    It has been revealed that while NZ has said it will put $57m into the South Korean bailout, government ministers have agreed in principle to pay three times this amount ... a bailout contribution that may yet reach $170m.

    Steve Maharey releases an Income Support form to the media which contains a clause saying clients will get assistance to move into a new property only if he or she signs a clause saying they will not ask for help for food. Maharey: "This shows the welfare system has reached rock-bottom. The government is no longer the final port of call for the needy -- private charities now had that role..." Income Support general manager Christine Rankin says that the agreements did not mean that the people would not get help if they needed it. She says they were about encouraging people to take control of their lives by setting goals, such as not asking money for food. Rankin: "The agreements are written about what the customer wants to achieve. The goals may undertake education or training towards employment, or to get their finances under control. However, if something goes wrong, we always make it clear they can come back for help..."

    The Professional Firefighters Union has slammed a $1m publicity campaign planned by the Fire Service. The union says the money would be better spent on increasing the numbers of front-line personnel, which has fallen to 1960s levels. 28 December 1997

    An estimated 2.4 million Thais are expected to lose their jobs in 1998 as Thailand's economic crisis starts to take its full toll on the labour force. 29 December 1997

    ACC has paid nearly $1m in bonuses to its staff since April last year. Treasury has paid out more than $4.5m in staff bonuses over the past three financial years.

    The Employers Federation is lobbying to stop the 'Mondayising' of public holidays, where those that fall on the weekend are marked with a day off the following Monday. In 1999, such a move would leave workers enjoying just 6 public holidays on week days, instead of the possible 11 days.

    31 December 1997

    The last Levene's retail store closes in Auckland's Newmarket, with the loss of 91 staff.

    New Year's Eve in France has seen riots and rampages amongst unemployed young people.

    1 January 1998

    New Year's Day.

    New laws stripping under-18 year-olds of student and training benefits are criticised by Labour's employment spokesman Trevor Mallard. He says it will work against young people getting further education and training: "There is now a clear gap where young people can leave school and not get allowances to study."

    2 January 1998

    Bryan Forrest of Palmerston North writes to The Dominion: "Everything I have read about Peter McCardle's work-for-the-dole scheme seems to indicate that the unemployed will be made to do chores similar to those which are currently the forte of periodic detention detainees. "One question presents itself: What benefit will there be for judges to continue to sentence offenders, who are often unemployed, to periodic detention if the work that they end up doing on PD is exactly the same as they would have been required to do anyway? "Perhaps once it has combined the Employment Service and Income Support, the government will further streamline the operation by combining the work-for-the-dole scheme with the periodic detention centres in order to fully utilise their probation officers' supervisory skills..."

    4 January 1998

    France's militant unemployed and homeless have occupied unemployment offices across the country, in a protest against persistently high unemployment and calling for additional state aid.

    5 January 1998

    A report to the Lotteries Commission showed that Lotto retailers lost $200,000 in sales and were abused by customers after a Lottery grants decision to cut lottery cash for disabled people.

    The Lottery Grants Board later reversed its decision, saying it merely wanted "to provoke debate", believing that the Ministry of Health should pay for disabled equipment.

    6 January 1998

    Social Welfare reports 36,021 cases of benefit fraud over the last year, amounting to $63m. The department says it could have found more fraud if not for staff cuts. The two most common methods of fraud reported were people receiving welfare benefits while still working, and people not declaring they were living with a partner.

    The Timber Industry Federation reports that log exports to South Korea in the final quarter of 1997 could be half the levels of earlier in the year, as the Asian economic crisis starts to bite. North Asia is the biggest market for NZ forestry products.

    Winstone Pulp International is sacking 76 workers and closing its Tangiwai sawmill. The company says the Asian monetary crisis meant that the capital investment, that the company's owners had intended for bringing the mill up to an international standard, was no longer available.

    7 January 1998

    The NZ Dollar is at its lowest point in three years, dipping to US56.8c. Financial markets are predicting it will fall even lower in coming months.

    China's state-run railway sector plans to shed more than a million workers as part of restructuring. This more than a third of the total workers employed in this sector. The Chinese government says that parts of the railway network will be sold and management leased out.

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