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    Essential Information on an Essential Issue

    Letter No.76

    14 April, 1998

    Highlights from Sally Learner's keynote address to the Universal Basic Income Network Annual Conference
    Why not a Universal Wage rather than benefits?

    What it means for N.Z.

    The Universal Basic Income (UBI) NZ Network held its second annual conference in Wellington late last month. The meeting attracted 50-100 people, including several overseas academics. Keynote speaker was Canadian academic Sally Lerner, co-ordinator of the Futurework internet conference.

    The whole idea of a universal living wage may seem totally out of step with the overall theme of the "leaner and meaner" welfare reforms now taking place in the western world. But a recent OECD "Forum for the Future" identified a "universal citizen's income" as one of four innovative approaches to finding "the balance between economic flexibility and societal cohesion" (OECD: Societal Cohesion and the Globalising Economy, Paris 1997). The OECD's consideration of the concept is part of an emerging international consensus that fundamental changes in the nature of work driven by the twin engines of economic globalisation and rapid technological change _ require serious attention.

    In this issue of The Jobs Letter, we feature some highlights from Sally Lerner's keynote address to the conference, and also an article by Wellington's City Voice editor Simon Collins about the application of a UBI concept in NZ.

    About 200 central North Island forestry workers are expected to hear this week that their jobs will go after Fletcher Challenge decides to cut its harvest levels by 30%. The cuts are a result of the Asian financial crisis hitting log exports. The job losses will be in harvesting crews, and some trucking crews, especially those transporting logs to ports. The lay-offs will amount to nearly a quarter of all the harvesting crews working in the region. Fletcher Forests is one of NZ's largest log exporters, and it does not see the job situation improving dramatically in the near future.

    Meanwhile, the Port of Tauranga is instigating an industry review to offset a continuing slump in log exports. It has seen exports at the port plummet 30% in the recent months _ almost all sales related to South Korea and Port executives believe the downturn could last 2-3 years.

    The Wood Industries Union estimates that already 350 union members in the forestry industry have lost their jobs since December, with workers laid off at mills and factories all over the country. Union Secretary Jim Jones estimates the total impact of the downturn as affecting over 1,000 workers in the past three months. He expects another 1,000 to lose their jobs before the end of this year.

    Source _ The Dominion 9 April 1998 "Fletcher jobs to go after log harvest cut" by Roeland van den Bergh; New Zealand Herald 9 April 1998 "Axe hangs over 200 more forest jobs" by Bronwyn Sell.

    Employment Minister Peter McCardle is to get the job he has hoped for being sole Minister in charge of the new super-department being created out of the merger between NZ Employment Service and Income Support. He will now oversee the transition process as the department comes into being on the 1st October.

    As Minister, McCardle will be responsible for running the department, and "all services to be provided to working age beneficiaries". Social Welfare Minister Roger Sowry will retain responsibility for Income Support until 1st October, and after this will be responsible for "services to be provided for non-working age beneficiaries" (such as NZ superannuation and war pensions).

  • The Social Policy Agency and the Labour Market Policy Group will not become a part of the new super-department. The various Ministers will be purchasing policy and advice from these agencies who will remain part of their existing Ministries. It has been decided that the new department will not be a policy advice department, and that its contribution to policy will be limited to operational perspectives.

  • Legislation has been introduced into parliament to facilitate the establishment of the new super-department. Main points in the Bill:

    staff who transfer to the new department will be guaranteed no less favorable terms and conditions than those they enjoyed in the department they are transferring from.

    Nobody now contracting with any of the organisations that will make up the new department can claim for breach of contract simply because administration of the contract is transferring to the new department.

    An amendment to the Education Act will transfer the administration of student allowances to the new department.

    The new super-department still does not have a name. This fact is a continuing source of entertainment and creativity amongst its potential employees with various acronyms and tongue-in-cheek suggestions circulating staff of Income Support and NZES.

    Meanwhile, the Auckland design company Maxim has been commissioned to draw up the serious options of name and logo for "market testing" the new "branding" with staff and stakeholders.

  • Peter McCardle has been in the firing line of several personal attacks in the media in recent weeks. Opposition parties have been trying to brand him as a "do-nothing member of cabinet". Leading the charge has been Wellington's Evening Post, which in an editorial described McCardle as PM Jenny Shipley's worst non-performing asset, and questioned what he had done to justify his $135,000 salary since taking office. The paper described McCardle as "missing, presumably in action."

    During the debate on the introduction of legislation to create the new super-department, Labour's Steve Maharey complained: "Have we had 16 months work on this, by this minister who has only one portfolio, who does not do anything else, who never seems to be in the House, who never seems to be in the electorate, who never seems to be anywhere?" Maharey predicts that with McCardle's appointment to the new agency, the government will end up with another Birch-Peters combination but it will be Roger Sowry who will be driving Peter McCardle.

  • Expect: more visibility forthcoming from Peter McCardle, especially surrounding an announcement on the community wage proposals, later this month.
    Source _ Transition Talk Issue 14, 1 April 1988; Transition Talk Issue 15, 8 April 1988; The Evening Post editorial 28 March 1998 "Minister should front up"; Evening Post 6 April 1998 "MPs use Post editorial as weapon"; The Dominion 9 April 1998 "McCardle to head job and dole agency"

    One of the most comprehensive surveys in recent years on local "barriers to employment" has just been completed in Nelson. The research, based on a survey of 244 local job seekers, was commissioned by the Nelson Tasman Regional Employment Committee. It's findings will be controversial because it highlights how institutional barriers (beyond the job-seeker's control, such as type of jobs available, training costs, and the service of government agencies) are considered more critical reasons for not finding a job, than personal factors (such as age, gender, ethnicity, access to childcare or willingness to work).

    Top reasons identified as "barriers to employment": the type of work available, and the cost of training. Lack of qualifications, unhelpful attitudes of government agencies and the financial disincentives of wage and benefit levels were cited as the next most significant barriers.

    The regional employment committee launched the survey because there was a consensus amongst its members that "ad-hoc" information was not giving a true picture of the local unemployment situation. The group felt they needed to quantify barriers to employment from the point of view of those seeking work.

    The group of job seekers in the survey had a wide range of vocational and educational qualifications, and had attended a variety of training courses in the previous two years. Most were seeking paid work, and very few regarded themselves as "unwilling to work". Most had access to personal transport and childcare, and standards of literacy and numeracy were high.

    The survey report recommended that government employment policy should focus on reducing structural, or institutional barriers to employment, and that job creation should be promoted through a co-ordinated regional economic development initiative. Report co-writer Liz Richards: "There should be a more effective match between vocational skills training and industry labour needs, and improved access to government employment agencies"

    Source _ Nelson Tasman Regional Employment Committee " Barriers to Employment Survey" March 1998, compiled by Liz Richards(Healthy Communities Co-ordinator) and Steve Richards (Village Community Trust)

    Two important commissions looking at Maori employment and economic issues were finally appointed last month by the Minister of Maori Affairs, Tau Henare. The Commissions are a part of four think-tanks on the major social issues effecting Maori, and were part of the coalition agreement between National and NZ First announced in December 1996.

    The Commissioners were selected in consultation with the Maori constituency MPs and the New Zealand First caucus, and candidates were nominated by Maori organisations, Te Puni Kokiri, or themselves.

    The Commissioners are:

    Maori Economic Development Commission
    -- June McCabe (Chair), currently the Chief Manager Government Business for the Westpac Trust, she is the former Chief Executive Officer of the Home Mortgage Company;
    -- Ben Dalton, an Employment Adviser for the Community Employment Group;
    -- Malcolm Henare, businessman;
    -- Bill Osborne, Group Manager, NZ Post, and the Chief Executive of NZPIL;
    -- Maurice Selwyn, businessman.

    Maori Employment and Training Commission:
    -- Rongo Wetere (Chair), Tumuaki of Te Wananga o Aotearoa;
    -- Grant Berghan, Chief Executive Officer for Te Hauora o Te Tai Tokerau;
    -- Druis Barrett, President of the Maori Women's Welfare League;
    -- Judith Hawkins, self employed business consultant;
    -- Reginald Ratahi, working with Te Whanau O Waipareira Trust;
    -- Wally Stone, Chief Executive of Whale Watch Kaikoura.

    Fuller profiles of the commissioners can be found on the TPK website at

    Source _ the TPK website at

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