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    Essential Information on an Essential Issue

    Letter No.81

    30 June, 1998

    The Community Wage -- has it gained overwhelming support or should it be boycotted? Views from Peter McCardle and The Auckland Unemployed Workers Rights Centre

    In the face of the continuing economic downturn, forecasters are predicting that 10,000 - 20,000 workers will face redundancy over the next nine months, pushing the unemployment rate up to 8% by next March. This will take the official number of unemployed from 129,000 to 140,000-150,000 people.

    The forecasters are also predicting that unemployment will get better after March 1999 as exporters start to take on new staff to take advantage of the lower NZ dollar.

  • In the meantime, the New Zealand Herald's Bernard Orsman reports that big job losses are expected in the public sector and car assembly plants. Banks are also continuing to close branches and lay off staff, oil companies are cutting costs and jobs, and "forestry contractors are falling like trees". The retail trade continues to look shaky with the announcement that the Dress For Less chain will close with the loss of 800 jobs.

    For its part, the government is planning to slash over 2000 public sector jobs. This includes making 400 firefighters and 450 police redundant, 780 job losses at Inland Revenue, an expected loss of about 200 positions with the merger of NZ Employment Service and Income Support, a further 240 jobs will be lost as the four regional health authorities merge into one funding agency. And 60 customs staff also face redundancy.

    Source _ New Zealand Herald 20 June 1998 "Jobless wait for spinoff from low dollar" by Bernard Orsman

    It's not quite the "job-and-dole-shop" coined by The Dominion headline writers several months ago, but very close to it. The new name for the integrated super-department will be the Work and Income Agency. This will be its trading name, although its legal entity will be called the Department of Work and Income.

    In announcing the new name, Employment Minister Peter McCardle says he believes the name fits perfectly: "It is clear and simple, and reflects the direction of the Government's employment and welfare reforms. It also expresses the government's belief in the importance of work in achieving personal, economic and social independence"

    The new super-agency will be one of the largest government departments in terms of staff numbers about 14% of the public service are involved in this restructuring process.

  • The Maori name for the new super-agency will be Manaaki Tangata, which conveys a message of "helping people". McCardle also says this captures the essence of the new organisation " without encouraging or implying dependency."

    Coming soon: the public release of the "branding" images of the new organisation -- the graphics, logos and other design features.

  • Some key decisions have been made over the structure of the new super agency, which brings together the NZ Employment Service (NZES), Income Support, the Community Employment Group (CEG), and the Local Employment Co-ordination Unit (LEC).

    It will have thirteen administrative regions, loosely modeled on the existing regional structure of Income Support.

    In the hierarchy: the super agency is to be headed by a soon-to-be-appointed Chief Executive. Under this position is a National Commissioner, followed by the thirteen Regional Commissioners. Also reporting to the National Commissioner will be the CEG National Manager, and the LEC Managers.

    The Community Employment Group has survived virtually in-tact in the restructuring and will continue to operate in its five-region structure, and retain its permanent field staff positions.

  • Advertisements have appeared in the major papers for the top jobs in the new agency, and the positions of Regional Commissioners.

  • The latest schedule for the transition;
    -- In July : Staff consultation ends and final decisions made on the new structure. The "reconfirmation" of staff appointments begins. The new Chief Executive is appointed. Regional Office and Corporate Office positions are advertised.
    -- In August : The other top jobs (reporting to the CEO) are appointed. -- In September : Regional Commissioners are appointed.
    -- On October 1st : The Work and Income Agency begins operations, and the Community Wage is introduced.

  • All existing NZES and Income Support staff who are being reconfirmed in their positions in the new department are to receive a letter advising them of this by the end of July or early August. Once a staff member is reconfirmed, they are not eligible for reassignment to another position during the transition time. They can, however, apply for any vacancies which are advertised externally and for any vacancies that remain at the end of the transition process.

  • A major three-week long consultation process is presently underway amongst the staff affected by the transition to the new agency. It is designed to obtain feedback on the proposed national and regional structures, and the protocols for transferring staff into the new agency.

    Most staff now have been shown a "consultation kit" which contains information on how the process will work, what decisions have been made to date, including which decisions are not being consulted about. The closing date for submissions in this process is 8th July. The research company UMR Insight is also doing a telephone survey of staff reactions to the proposals put forward by the consultation.

  • Major staff concern: What will the pay be like in the new agency? At present the front-line staff of both Income Support and NZES have different salary scales and terms of employment. While the staff are being told that if they continue to perform their current functions in the new department they will basically have their present "terms and conditions" rolled over. But the Transition managers have yet to define what the front-line delivery job description will actually entail and once it has done this, it will propose a pay system to suit.

  • To help staff "through the change process", the Dept of Labour has arranged for individual counseling to be available to all staff, and NZES has organised three workshop sessions for staff covering coping with change and stress, change management for managers, and selection techniques and processes.

  • All eyes of community leaders will be on the "regional focus" of this new super-agency. The choice of Regional Commissioners will be critical to the integrity of the "local solutions" emphasis in the government's employment policies.

    The advertisements for the commissioners say these people will have "the authority and flexibility to deliver solutions to local issues via specific and integrated service delivery channels". The day-to-day service delivery in each region will be delegated to a Regional Operations Manager.

  • The commissioners will be advised by a Regional Employment Committee that will provide advice on local labour markets and employment initiatives. Regional Plans will also be developed to collect and use local information tailor strategies more closely to local needs and priorities hold staff more accountable and build local and regional partnerships with key sectors and community groups.
    Sources _ Transition Talk No 26, 21 June 1998, and The Consultation Kit from the Integration Transition Team

    Thumbs-up for the new Job Bank internet site by the NZ Employment Service. They are now listing their job information by region and job category, which means that any community organisation or individual with access to the internet can now obtain details from the NZES jobs database.

    NZES project manager Mark Christie says the Job Bank site combines the best features found in internet job sites around the world. Job seekers can now select work either by region or category and then email their personal details to the NZES. Employers can also email vacancies to the site, which is updated every 30 minutes. There is expected to be 1200-1500 jobs listed on the site at any given time.

    Christie says that NZES will widen access to its resources by partnering with community organisations which already have internet connections. It will offer them a special browser designed to access features on the internet site. It is also possible that software allowing people access to the Job Bank site, but not the rest of the internet, could be given to job seekers who owned a computer and a modem.

    Check out the Job Bank at

    Source _ NZ Infotech Weekly Issue No 350

  • The Job Bank is the first stage in a three-pronged approach to internet services for the unemployed and employers. By October 1st, a "Talent Bank" is expected to be operating, giving employers access to the NZES on-line database of 200,000 job seekers. Employers will be able to check the skills of the people available for work and make contact with the appropriate service centre. The next step will be allowing both employers and job seekers to contact each other about jobs.
    Source _ Otago Daily Times 20 June 1998 "On-line job search for the unemployed"

    In this issue of The Jobs Letter we include a special feature on the Community Wage programme, including Employment Minister Peter McCardle's view that there is overwhelming support for the community wage. But according to Graeme Speden of The Independent, and based on papers released under the Official Information Act, the government's attempts with this scheme are being hit both by a shortage of possible "community work" jobs, and a philosophical resistance from community groups.

    The official report says that, at the end of March, it had taken six months to get close to the target of signing up 50 community groups to become Community Broker Organisations (CBOs) who will find sponsors who, in turn, will find work for the unemployed. The official report said that 47 organisations had been contracted to broker a minimum of 6,115 jobs. At the time, they had arranged just 331 jobs. Finding and contracting the community organisations had cost the government $3.2m.

    The report also quoted focus group research which showed "substantial philosophical opposition within some communities" to the attempts to extend the Community Task Force scheme. The report: "A number of organisations had overcome philosophical concerns about the scheme in order to participate. Some stated that if they felt they were becoming instruments for coercing job-seekers into unsatisfactory work as part of work-testing they would reconsider there involvement"

    Source _ The Independent 24 June 1998 "Govt job search hits obstacles" by Graeme Speden

    Meanwhile, Labour Department officials have told a parliamentary select committee that it is the voluntary organisations offering community wage scheme "jobs" that will be liable, like any other employer, for workplace accidents. The officials said that failure by any organisation to comply with Occupational Safety and Health regulations could result in prosecution and possibly a stiff fine if convicted.

  • This position by the Labour Department is bound to be controversial amongst potential sponsors of the community wage scheme. For example, a Lions Club which organises community wage workers to tidy elderly people's gardens will be regarded as an employer under health and safety legislation, even though the club receives no funding to support these responsibilities. The big question is just how many voluntary organisations have systematic hazard identification and management programmes in place, or are in a position to comply with the requirements of health and safety training and supervision.
    Sources _ New Zealand Herald 18 June 1998 "Dole workers to get safety cover" by NZPA; and Safeguard Update No 97 4 May 1998

    The Anglican Hikoi of Hope - Te Hikoi mo te Tumanako me to Rawakore. With October 1st being the opening day of the new super-agency, it will also be the day the month-long Hikoi of Hope organised by the Anglican Church descends on Parliament Grounds in Wellington. The symbolic walk is to express the deep concern of the church " for the pain we are observing." The church: "Over the years we have made submissions, passed resolutions, signed petitions and sent delegations to Parliament. Now, it is time to take action and let our physical presence do the talking"

    The tentative dates released to the media so far include: 1st September Hikoi departs North Cape and Stewart Island; 5 September Kaitaia and Invercargill; 12 September Auckland and Dunedin; 19 September Hamilton and Christchurch, New Plymouth, Napier and Nelson; 26 September Palmerston North and Blenheim; 1 October Parliament Grounds Wellington.

    Source _ Mean Times Vol 9 Issue 1 1998

    The new Jobs Network in Australia is under criticism from opposition parties for its performance after only two months of operation. We can hope that our own restructuring into the new super-department will fare better in October.

    The main criticisms of the Jobs Network launch were that the multi-million dollar advertising campaign was long on waffle and short on actual information leading to confusions amongst jobseekers and employers alike.

    The Australian reports that the tendering process for new agencies produced some embarrassingly successful applicants, including one without a telephone or an office.

    The launch was also dogged by the failure to connect the different contracting agencies with the new central computer database. The Labour opposition claims that the central computer has become a bottleneck amid the confusion of the changeover, and the 310 Job Network agencies, most of them small private operations, are not getting enough referrals to operate successfully. The government however denies a bottleneck has developed in the system, but will not release full figures for months.

  • So far, the Job Network has introduced new jargon onto the employment landscape in Australia _ including Flex 1,2 and 3 programs and an underlying philosophy of being driven by "outcomes" rather than "processes".

    Flex 3 people are the long-term unemployed, or those assessed at risk of being so. It is through a Flex 3 client that a contracted agency can earn up to $10,000, if the client is placed and stays in work for at least six months. Other working-age beneficiaries are classified as Flex 2, and they are usually referred to agencies for help with presentation and job action plans.

    All job seekers have access to Flex 1 which is the basic labour-exchange service for which non-beneficiaries can legally be charged for services. Employers can, and are, being charged for services which used to be free under the old Commonwealth Employment service (CES). The Australian says that as a consequence, many employers are choosing not to list their jobs with the new service.

    Source _ The Australian 8 June 1998 "Job Network shows early vital signs"

    The US General Accounting Office has issued a report that shows that unemployed Americans are moving off the register twice as quickly now as before 1996, when the US Congress imposed a time limit on welfare payments. Advocates for the time limits are saying that this is non-partisan proof that they are proving a success at prompting more people to find jobs.

    The American economy has been booming since 1991, and welfare rolls have fallen by 37% since Bill Clinton took up his presidency. But till now, no one knew exactly where these people were going. The Accounting Office now reports that in Maryland, in 1995, 4% of welfare recipients found jobs but this had jumped to 17% in 1997. In Louisiana, the number jumped from 6% to 17%, in California from 9% to 19%. Oregon and Wisconsin increased their job-finding rates by 70%. Texas was the only state to show a lowdown in the flow of jobless into work.

    When it was introduced, the "time limits" law was denounced as inhumane because it laid down that no one would receive more than a total of five years of welfare payments from the federal government during their lifetime. Critics have argued that people did not choose to be unemployed and the new law would leave them in poverty, or in casual work that paid only poverty-level wages.

    Source _ The Dominion 22 June 1998 "Benefit cuts get US working" from the Daily Telegraph

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