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    Letter No.74
    6 March, 1998

    8 February 1998

    James Cox, a Business Roundtable - sponsored consultant, is promoting his new book Towards Personal Independence and Prosperity in which he argues for a radical change to the NZ benefits system. He says there is scope for a lowering of the NZ invalids, domestic purposes and sickness benefits which he says are 15% or more higher than their Australian equivalents, when the accommodation supplement is taken into account.

    9 February 1998

    Mitsubishi Motors confirms it will close its Porirua assembly plant in June. This will mean the loss of more than 250 jobs. Last year, the company closed its truck and small-car assembly lines with the loss of 100 jobs.

    10 February 1998

    The Air Force is hiring 40 former Royal Air Force technical staff from Britain in a effort to plug their critical skills-shortages.

    The number of job advertisements in NZ has risen for the first time in 11 months, according to the ANZ Bank job ads survey. The Bank, however, is playing down the trend, saying that the job outlook in 1998 remains depressed, especially with the implications of the Asian crisis still to appear in the NZ economy.

    11 February 1998

    Maori Affairs Minister Tau Henare challenges government agencies to address Maori unemployment after a Te Puni Kokiri report the total number of Maori unemployed to be just under 30,000 people, or 16.8% of Maori.

    Deutsche Morgan Grenfell predicts that the NZ economy will grow by only about 2.5% in each of the next two years, well below the 4% growth forecast by Treasury.

    12 February 1998

    The Conference "Social Responsibility: Whose Agenda?" opens at Albany's Massey University Campus. The conference is attended by 350 academics, community workers, council staff, and politicians.

    In Britain, a slick television campaign has started urging British companies to climb on the bandwagon of the Labour government's "New Deal" and offer jobs to young unemployed.

    13 February 1998

    At the Albany Social Responsibility Conference veteran activist Sue Bradford says she hopes the wider public will see "how evil it is to hammer, pursue and punish the people who are already having the hardest time" She says the concept of social responsibility should start with the government, and also include businesses and the wider community.

    More than 20% of the large employers surveyed in the quarterly Morgan and Banks job index say they expect to trim staff numbers in the three months until the end of March. The index shows a dramatic reduction in employer optimism.

    Fishing company Sanford says it will close its Wanganui Seafoods processing plant at the end of March, with the loss of 100 jobs.

    14 February 1998

    Violent food riots have erupted in West Java as Indonesians mob the homes and stores of ethnic Chinese, after months of economic collapse. Unemployment in Indonesia has doubled since last year to more than 8m people _ in a country that does not provide welfare for those out of work.

    15 February 1998

    The Social Responsibility Conference ends in Albany with a call to support an alternative to the government's proposed code in the form of an all-encompassing Social Responsibility Act that will also deal with social rights such as health, housing, social security and employment.

    The Human Rights Commission is receiving more complaints about age discrimination, especially people in their 40s and 50s finding it increasingly difficult to get jobs.

    16 February 1998

    The head of the IMF has written to President Suharto in Indonesia threatening to cut off rescue money unless there is greater evidence of economic reforms.

    In South Korea, the National Assembly has passed labour reform laws as a condition of the record IMF bailout late last year. Union leaders are predicting a life-and-death struggle for jobs when massive industrial layoffs hit many work sites.

    America may delay the signing of the MAI treaty, which aims to end local restrictions on foreign investors. Reuters reports that America is concerned about the number of exemptions that will be included in the treaty and further negotiations will take it past the April deadline for signing.

    The NZES is providing a bus to take Patea residents to work or training opportunities in nearby Hawera. The bus is funded from the NZES innovation fund, which provides grants for one-off activities aimed at getting employment. Of the 213 people currently registered unemployed in Hawera, 96 say they have no access to transport.

    17 February 1998

    Parliament re-opens for 1998. Jenny Shipley gives her `state of the nation' speech which outlines National's objectives in social policy and launches the government's discussion document on the Code of Social Responsibility.

    More than 1,000 demonstrators march on parliament to protest various aspects of government policies. Graham Howell of the Wellington Unemployed Workers Union: "The New Right are intent on taking our democracy away from us, our right for genuine choice"

    Labour's social welfare spokesman Steve Maharey says that almost 50,000 telephone calls to the Income Support Service 0800 number go unanswered every month. The October figures, released by Social Welfare, show that most calls (68%) are answered within 60 seconds, but some beneficiaries waited up to 23 minutes before their calls were answered. 14% of beneficiaries abandon their calls before they speak to the operator.

    Auckland law professor Jane Kelsey warns that recent American doubts on signing the MAI treaty do not mean the treaty is being defeated. Kelsey: "The United States is just playing hardball _ it used a similar negotiating tactic to secure a more favourable outcome during the closing stages of Nafta and the Gatt Uruguay Round"

    18 February 1998

    The ongoing drought in NZ is expected to mean a drop of $355m in farm incomes.

    Helen Clark criticises the Code for Social Responsibility which has as one of its expectations that children should not break the law. Clark : "Tell that to Doug Graham's son who crashed a ministerial car and ran off, or John Delamere's son who was up for cannabis possession, or to Mrs Shipley herself who has left the bringing up of her teenagers to a boarding school "

    Income Support disputes Steve Maharey's analysis of the figures that show it is not answering 50,000 calls every month. Income Support says it has greatly improved its service, and now the number of unanswered calls in December was less than half the 50,000 calls claimed by Maharey.

    19 February 1998

    187,582 people were registered as unemployed with NZES in January. There were 37 registered people for every notified vacancy at the Service. 60% of the notified vacancies were still unfilled by the end of the month.

    Carter Holt Harvey's carton plant in Palmerston North will close in July, with the loss of about 50 jobs.

    20 February 1998

    PM Jenny Shipley tells Helen Clark to "stop being catty" over the proposed social code.

    Helen Clark says her point is that when the government starts telling other people how to live their lives the public has a right to say "Hang on a minute, what about your life?"

    Australian Prime Minister John Howard expresses concern about civic unrest in Indonesia, his nearest neighbour: "The economy has taken a fearful hammering, and there has been a huge reduction in the wealth of that country almost overnight"

    21 February 1998

    The worst power crisis in NZ's history is gripping the heart of the Auckland CBD as all four main power cables into the city fail, plunging the city into a black-out. A fifth reserve cable is serving only emergency services and hospitals.

    Mercury Power had halved its workforce from 1,200 in 1992, laying it open to criticism that it had run down the expertise of company staff and put its essential infrastructure at risk. It was well known that the age of the cables, additional ground heat in a hot summer and the extra loading would put them under enormous pressure in a key commercial area.

    A Labour Party-commissioned survey finds that high accommodation costs are forcing more people to use foodbanks.

    The number of women belonging to unions has increased to 57% of the Council for Trade Union's membership.

    The horticulture company Turners and Growers is laying off 60 staff nationally, as it restructures.

    NZ's tourism stands to make $400m less this year, largely due to a fall in foreign tourist numbers from Asia.

    22 February 1998

    The government starts to distribute the Code of Social Responsibility discussion booklets to all NZ households. The survey will cost the government about $2m.

    PM Jenny Shipley is attacked by conservative Auckland City Councillors over her decision to attend Auckland's Hero Parade, especially "in light of her promotion of a new Code of Family and Social Responsibility this week"

    Finance Minister Bill Birch signals that further tax cuts are unlikely in this term of government because of shrinking surpluses.

    23 February 1998

    Auckland city leaders and emergency services order an unprecedented shut-down of the central city until power is restored. The CBD faces a week without power, effecting all businesses and inner city apartments.

    Temporary workers in the heart of Auckland feel the pinch as the number of jobs available is halved.

    The government announces an inquiry will be held into what went wrong with the Auckland power supply.

    50% of business travelers have cancelled their bookings to Auckland.

    Alliance Employment Spokesman Rod Donald criticises Lockwood Smith's recent claim that overseas investors will create tens of thousands of jobs in New Zealand. Donald: "His apology for the take-over of New Zealand harks back to Bill Birch's think big job promises. It also reminds me of how easy it is for jobs to disappear if they depend on foreign investment. Despite Smith's trumpeting of foreign investment the truth is that 80% of new jobs created in New Zealand over the last five years have been set up by locally owned companies"

    24 February 1998

    The government says it will still push ahead with its plans to restructure the national electricity industry.

    The relocation of dozens of businesses from the Auckland CBD is proving to be a bonanza for office equipment hire firms and removal firms.

    Nearly 300 waterside workers are out of a job after receivers have moved in on four stevedoring companies _ Waitemata Stevedoring in Auckland, Kaimai Stevedoring in Tauranga, Wellington Stevedoring and Canterbury Stevedoring.

    Share prices in the Australian sharemarket surge upwards after the ANZ Banking Group announces it will cut 1,700 jobs.

    25 February 1998

    Meat Processor AFFCO is to stand down 1,000 workers and close two North Island meat works _ at Moerewa in the Bay of Islands and Horotio near Hamilton. .

    Retailers in Auckland's CBD are losing as much as $10m a day from lost business amidst the unprecedented power cuts.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs in Australia is warning people to avoid visiting Auckland.

    Traders and residents vent their anger at a public meeting held by the Auckland City Council. Mercury Energy refuses to show up.

    Minister of Finance Bill Birch says that Auckland's power crisis will not derail a bold new programme of asset sales.

    26 February 1998

    The Times in London reports that the Auckland blackout makes NZ look like a third world country.

    Mercury Energy sets up a $2m rescue fund for small businesses in the Auckland CBD. The maximum claim is only $2,000.

    The Reserve Bank now expects unemployment in NZ to hit 7.1% by the end of this year, and only fall marginally in 1999.

    Treasurer Winston Peters wants more migrants brought to NZ for their skills, and fewer admitted on family reunification and humanitarian grounds.

    27 February 1998

    Finsec, the financial sector union, says the ANZ Bank in NZ is planning to shed 600 jobs.

    Thousands of property transactions nationally have been stopped in their tracks because the Auckland power crisis has forced the Auckland Land Title Services office to close.

    The jobs of 630 Telecom operators are at risk as the company considers contracting out services to the US company Sitel.

    28 February 1998

    Labour places Jenny Shipley at the centre of its counter-code of responsibility campaign, producing a poster with the slogan: "How Dare She! while NZ'ers can't get a hospital bed". Labour is to release 10,000 copies of its own social responsibility booklet designed to show there are alternatives to the government's approach.

    1 March 1998

    Palmerston North food company Hester Guy has gone into liquidation, only days after the 50 staff were told the company would be able to trade its way out of difficulties.

    The Alliance Welfare spokesman Grant Gillon suggests that people send their responses to the survey on the social code to him rather than to the government. He says the government will distort the responses so that it can persist with plans to "bash beneficiaries".

    2 March 1998

    The New Zealand Herald reports that Mercury Energy apparently knew two years ago that its lifeline power supply to the central city was leaking and likely to fault.

    3 March 1998

    In New Plymouth, the lobby group Taranaki Action publicly burns booklets of the government's Code of Social Responsibility. A spokesperson says: "it makes statements that are meant to lead working people to believe they are being ripped off by their neighbours who are on benefits "

    A visiting American professor of gerentology, Elizabeth Markson criticises the social code as representing " the worst of American thinking _ that you can be told to love your children" She says the code also ignores family responsibilities to the aged.

    4 March 1998

    Auckland faces five more weeks without full power after two of the four big Mercury Energy cables failed critical voltage tests at the final stages of repair.

    Treasury puts the cost to the country of the Auckland power crisis at $600m, but says its worst fears would be if the crisis was not resolved in the next week. In the face of Mercury's latest failed cables, economists are now saying this estimate is "way too low".

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