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    Letter No.90
    20 November, 1998

    21 October 1998

    The government will be making the mandatory retirement of workers because of their age illegal as of February, 1999. The Employers Federation, the Council of Trade Unions and Grey Power are all critical of the options that will remain for employers and employees if the workers do not want to retire.

    Under the legislation, the only legal means of removing a worker will be for gross misconduct or poor performance. Generally, if an employer wants to `retire' an older worker, they will have to prove poor performance. Performance appraisals are generally designed to determine salary increases and promotions, not incompetence. But Human Rights Commissioner project manager David Peirse says that in parts of Australia where retirement is not compulsory, `performance management' is the accepted method of ending employment.

    22 October 1998

    One in four NZ'ers do not seek medical care when they need it because they can't afford it, according to an OECD report. Comparing NZ with Canada, the US, Britain and Australia, the report also says that NZers have the greatest anxiety about their health care services.

    23 October 1998

    The number of bankruptcies for the first nine months of 1998 nearly eclipses the number for all of last year. There have been 918 bankruptcies in NZ during the September quarter, up from 754 the previous quarter. This 22% rise is, according to the NZ Insolvency and Trustee Service, the highest number in the ten years that the service has been keeping the statistics.

    25 October 1998

    The salary increase for the director of Social Welfare Margaret Bazley is criticised by community groups and the Labour opposition. Wellington People's Resource Centre co-ordinator Margaret Crook points out that Ms Bazley's salary of over $270,000 was equivalent to 30 single adults' unemployment benefits. Labour's Steve Maharey questions Bazley's pay rise as she now has 3,500 fewer employees under her since Income Support merged into Work and Income NZ on October 1st.

    26 October 1998

    Labour Day. A public holiday declared in 1899 to celebrate the eight hour working day. Most workers then still worked six days a week. The forty hour week was generally observed throughout NZ by 1946.

    27 October 1998

    Mentality ill people released from psychiatric care in Christchurch are squatting in vacant buildings and are commonly involved in substance abuse, according to police. Inspector Rob Pope says that there are not enough social services in Christchurch for people with drug and alcohol problems.

    28 October 1998

    Sausage skin export company Independent Casing closes its Stoke plant near Nelson with the loss of 55 jobs. Citing a doubling of their effluent disposal charges by the local authority, the company is shifting to Auckland. The loss of wages alone will translate to a reduction of $30,000 per week to the Nelson economy.

    The National Assembly of People with Disabilities conference begins with President Paul Gibson saying that all people with disabilities must have the chance to perform productive work, be given equal opportunity and career path development. Gibson says that disabled people are not intrinsically less capable of work and that they are more likely to be unemployed because of workplace environmental and attitudinal problems rather than because of their disability.

    29 October 1998

    The Code of Social and Family Responsibility is officially abandoned. The value of the exercise has been widely criticised because of its leading questions. Only 6.7% of the questionnaires were returned and those who did respond tended to be in the same age and social groups.

    Many respondents voiced the view that holding a stick over people who are unemployed has a lack of legitimacy when the number of jobs is not keeping pace with the number of people wanting work.

    Some features that were in the code, however, have already become part of government policy or are still being studied. Work testing for the dole was a key code element and is already in place. Another code issue was about controlling the money of people are not living within their benefit. Minister of Social Welfare Roger Sowry is having a report done on whether beneficiaries who are regular users of the emergency benefit should have their money managed for them.

    Tranz Rail announces it will lay-off more than 400 workers by Christmas. The planned cut of about 10% of its workforce is based on dwindling freight volumes of coal and timber. Tranz Rail attributes the decline to the Asian recession.

    Georgie Pie announces the closure of four outlets which will result in 100 redundancies. Further Georgie Pie fast food restaurants are expected to close.

    30 October 1998

    Voice: "This scheme is not about building a community, not about working in partnership, not about building a sense of self-worth and hope and confidence. This scheme is about bullying, about compulsion, about pushing people out to `fill-in-time' work without supports, without safety assurances, without recourse to legal protection." Labour's Marion Hobbs' on the community wage scheme.

    31 October 1998

    The governor of the Bank of England Eddie George becomes ensconced in political controversy when he admits that massive job losses in the Northeast are the unfortunate but inevitable price to be paid to control inflation. The bank has lifted interest rates five times during the present government because of the threat of inflation due to the over-heated economy in the south of England. At the same time high interest rates are contributing to a recession and high unemployment in the Northeast.

    The International Labour Organisation reaches an agreement with Pakistani carpet manufacturers to eliminate child labour from their industry within five to ten years. Carpet making is Pakistan's largest and oldest cottage industry, and is estimated to employ one million people, many of them children under 14.

    1 November 1998

    The free-market global financial system is coming under scrutiny as the G7 nations discuss greater co-ordination between them to ensure stability in currency exchange rates. Both France and Germany are talking about currency trading regulations to try to control the free-wheeling international financial system.

    Russia changes tack from its open market approach to its economic policies. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov says that non free-market policies, like price controls and support to industry will eventually help Russia to attain free-market economic development.

    2 November 1998

    A proposal from the Accident Compensation Corporation would see ACC levies to workers increased by 8% while employer levies would drop by nearly 22%. Government is yet to make a decision on the issue.

    3 November 1998

    One month into the Community Wage scheme, 84 people have not complied with the requirements of the work test. Of these, 20 have had their benefits cut altogether, 10 had their benefits reduced, 39 were not penalised because they complied with the work test within five days and no decision has yet been made on the remaining 15. Most of the people whose benefits were cut or reduced failed to attend interviews or undertake community work or training. Work and Income NZ spokesperson Robert Brewer says that sanctions are only applied after officials are satisfied that a beneficiary had failed to meet their work test obligations without good reason.

    Investment banking firms in Europe are cutting back on staff. Merrill Lynch announces 3,400 redundancies. Several other banking houses announce lay-off's in the thousands.

    4 November 1998

    More than half of the Mitsubishi auto assembly workers who were made redundant when their Porirua plant closed in February have found jobs. Mitsubishi general manager Rob Greenfield says that 168 of the 264 have jobs, and most were found locally. He admits that some of the new jobs are short contracts and, depending on the export climate, may or may not last. Another 37 of the ex-Mitsubishi staff have left the workforce, either having retired or are in training.

    A study shows that people's health care treatment by their doctor is related to how much money they have. In a study, Douglas James, an economics graduate student, says the trend is that poorer people tend to be treated with drugs, while wealthier people are referred to specialists. While the reason for this is not conclusively defined, the report suggests that poorer people may have less desire to be referred to a specialist, possibly because of cost.

    5 November 1998

    Statistics NZ publishes the latest quarterly unemployment figures. See special feature in this issue.

    Associate Minister of Social Services Peter McCardle, in answer to a parliamentary question, says that WINZ spent $424,000 on carpet and furniture for its new offices.

    Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov holds a news conference which illustrates the dire state of his nation. Maslyukov says Russia has only enough food to last its people two to three weeks. He also says that Russia will have to renegotiate its huge foreign debt as it can not possibly pay the $US 3.5 billion this year or the $US 17.5 billion it will owe next year. The Russian energy ministry has also issued a statement that says fuel stocks are well behind schedule for the winter.

    6 November 1998

    Japan declines to go ahead with early tariff reductions on fish and forestry products, two of NZ's key exports to Japan. Foreign Minister Don McKinnon tells his Japanese counterpart that at the upcoming Apec meeting, the issue could cause a reaction from other members who may respond with a tit for tat refusal to move in other areas of tariff reduction.

    The US has denounced the Japanese move saying that member countries carrying out their voluntary commitments to reducing tariffs was the measuring stick for the success of Apec.

    7 November 1998

    The Community Wage scheme has been unable to capture the imagination of public or community organisations to offer positions. As the Community Taskforce contracts phased out last month, CWS contracts are not replacing them. The tougher conditions of the Community Wage scheme may be a part of the cause. The ten conditions of the contract which must be signed by organisations using the scheme include things like the work must not replace or threaten real jobs, jobs must provide proper work experience and the work must not make the organisation a profit. It seems that schools are the keenest public bodies to take on Community Wage workers. Teachers aides, especially for students with special needs, is a high demand area. Most people placed in these positions are not trained teachers aides.

    10 November 1998

    Four organisations that represent more than 1,200 social services groups have lost their funding support from the Community Funding Agency. Associate Minister of Social Services Nick Smith justifies the decision by saying NZ Federation for Voluntary Welfare Organisations, NZ Council of Christian Social Services, NZ Council of Social Services, and NZ Federation of Vocational and Support Services all do the same thing. Smith says these groups should merge to form one fully representative organisation. If they did this, and were prepared to deliver a programme like the government's Strengthening Family services, Smith says the CFA would re-consider funding.

    The groups believe they are being punishing for criticising government social policy. Gail Munro, director the Palmerston North Methodist Social Services, says the government has knee-capped the voluntary sector. Munro: "Remove our funding, and we become fragmented, disparate groups at the local level. This is a political move. The government does not want to hear the messages about poverty, about children not going to school, about increasing foodbank use. And the money saved is peanuts."

    Whangarei is hit hard as Affco, NZ's biggest meat exporter announces its local plant will close giving the chop to 190 jobs. Affco chief executive Ross Townshend also confirms that the Waitara and Taumarunui plants, shut down earlier this year, will remain closed. Townshend also says the company would be closing two more plants during the next twelve months. He would not indicate which plants would be closed, but did say that Affco staff had to be more flexible. Announcements about which plants would close will be made after contract negotiations with staff are completed.

    In Singapore, the country's sixth largest employer, Hewlett-Packard, is having all of it 9,000 employees take four days mandatory leave next month in order to contain costs.

    The NZ Customs Service restructuring will be complete by February with the loss of over 30 jobs in Wellington and 21 in Christchurch. There will be 17 new positions in Auckland.

    11 November 1998

    The details of the student loan scheme are altered. Changes starting from next academic year include: the cost of living allowance paid at $150 per week maximum; course fees paid directly to the institution rather than as lump sums to the students; parental consent required for applicants under 18 years old; dropping the amount available loan to buy books; equipment and materials from $1,000 to $500; and students will not be able to use loan money to pay their student union fees. There is no change to the 8% interest rate charged on student loans.

    More meatworks redundancies as Richmond turns its Te Kauwhata beef plant into venison possessing. The Te Kauwhata plant loses 42 of its 65 workers.

    A Colmar Brunton survey says that 66% of Maori do not believe they will receive any benefit from the $500m asset that the Waitangi Fishing Commission intends to distribute to iwi. The poll, commissioned by urban Maori, illustrates what they feel are inadequacies in the commission procedures in providing for all Maori.

    12 November 1998

    The results of the benefit fraud ad campaign are debated in parliament. Labour social security spokesperson Steve Maharey points out that 11,670 calls were taken involving allegations which resulted in 1,461 case of fraud and abuse. About 1%, or 114, were referred for prosecution. Minister of Social Services Roger Sowry says the campaign was a success as it represented $12.4m.

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