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    Letter No.116
    24 January, 2000

    20 December 1999

    Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey holds his first official meeting with Winz CEO Christine Rankin on December 20th. After the meeting, Maharey voices his support for Rankin.

    Maharey gives Rankin twelve months to make significant changes to the Winz organisation. He says he set out his expectations clearly and that he will be meeting with Winz frequently in the future.

    Christine Rankin has outlined two new projects to begin to change the Winz direction. One will be to improve the definition of staff spending rules. The other is what Rankin refers to as the `guardianship' project, in which Winz staff will be required to respect and value their customers and stop personal information leaks.

    The new government holds its first cabinet meeting at which it decides to raise the minimum wage, eliminate interest on loans for students still studying, and return the Training Incentive Allowance to previous levels.

    21 December 1999

    Melbourne's Daily Sun newspaper says that 66,000 Australians had their benefits reduced or withdrawn in 1999 for not attending work-for-the-dole assignments.

    British Airways confirms it will shed 8,000 jobs over the next two years, trimming staff by 13%.

    22 December 1999

    The split of Fletcher Challenge Ltd into four stand-alone trading companies will see up to 60 staff in the group's central administration made redundant this year.

    Winz was not the only department to use consultants to draw up their briefing papers for the new government. Treasury spent over $30,000 on contractors to write their report. An infuriated Helen Clark says that the best people to write a brief are the people who brief the minister, not contractors. She urges all ministers to find out who wrote their briefing papers.

    23 December 1999

    A shortage of skilled workers may be the greatest impediment to NZ's economic growth, according to Manufacturer Federation president David Maloney. A Westpac Trust reports that manufacturing up is 6% on last year but Maloney says a lack of skilled workers could crimp future gains in this sector.

    25 December 1999

    Christmas Day.

    People are turned away at the Wellington City Mission's free Christmas dinner when more people than expected turn up to eat. St Aidan's minister Bob Peters says the number of people arriving for a free Christmas dinner far exceeded any year in the past. He says that by the time 300 people were served they had run out of food and had to be told they were too late. Peters: "Our facilities were stretched to the limit. We ran out because people kept arriving." He says the real eye-opener was how many of those who came were young, needy families.

    Winz boss Christine Rankin was one of the volunteers who helped serve at the City Mission dinner, and she appears in television and newspaper coverage of the event.

    28 December 1999

    Mitsubishi Motors Australia announces its intention to cut 1,000 jobs from its Adelaide assembly plant. The Japanese company intends to cut 9,990 people from its worldwide workforce by the year 2004.

    30 December 1999

    In Britain, women earn 73.8% of what men do, according to UK government statistics. 20% of British women earn under £200/wk, compared to 8% of men. 12% of women hold jobs earning over £500/wk, compared to 27% of men.

    1 January 2000

    New Year's Day

    Worldwide celebrations to mark the dawn of the new millennium.

    6 January 2000

    The Health Funding Authority, with staff of 400, will be disestablished by the end of this year. Minister of Health Annette King says the responsibilities of the HFA will be taken over by locally elected district health services boards.

    8 January 2000

    Some 315,000 jobs were created in the US economy in December. It appears that there were more than 2.5m new jobs created there in 1999 giving the US an average 4.2% unemployment rate, the lowest level for thirty years.

    9 January 2000

    Government is reviewing childcare subsidies for low-income earners. The Ministry of Social Policy tells the government that 30% of sole parents say that childcare is a barrier to them holding a job. To make it financially worthwhile for sole parents to get paid work, the ministry recommends that higher childcare subsidies be provided for more hours per week so that the subsidies come closer to the actual childcare costs.

    10 January 2000

    Job ads in Australia reach a ten-year high, up nearly 20% from the same time last year according to the monthly ANZ survey.

    13 January 2000

    The Employers Federation CEO Anne Knowles says that Winz stand-down policy encourage people to pursue personal grievance claims against their employer. Knowles says that if a person is sacked, Winz puts them on a 13-week benefit stand-down. But if they take out a personal grievance against their former employer, the stand-down period is waived. She wants to see stand-down periods apply to all sacked employees and if the person has no means of support, emergency benefits or special needs grants to be used.

    Job ads in NZ, while increasing a healthy 0.9% in December, indicate a slowing of the pace of new job creation. The December increase is about half the growth rate of last year.

    The Australian unemployment rate rises to 7% in December from 6.7% in November. This is in spite of 55,800 jobs being created over the month. ANZ Banking Group chief economist Saul Eslake says the rise in the number of unemployed reflects the growing number of Australians looking for work. He says that with the economy improving, people who were previously discouraged from looking for work have re-entered the labour market.

    16 January 2000

    Chronic unemployment in East Timor results in frustrated locals pelting peacekeepers and UN civilian police and administrators with rocks. About 7,000 people desperate for work assembled at a Dili sports area to apply for 2,000 UN jobs there. Some of the jobseekers began throwing rocks after being told they are not qualified for the jobs.

    17 January 2000

    As the US government offers a subsidy programme to its sheep farmers, Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton says NZ farmers are being treated like mugs. Anderton says the US move justifies government measures aimed at protecting NZ jobs.

    Minister of Corrections Matt Robson puts on hold plans to build three new prisons. The previous minister Nick Smith had plans for a prison in Northland and two in Auckland. But Robson doesn't want to see prisons become a growth industry in NZ. He says he does not accept that prisoner numbers will increase at the predicted rate the Ministry of Corrections briefing papers and he favours more support for rehabilitation programmes. Robson: "Our goal is to move away from the notion that prisons are ambulances at the bottom of the cliff, filling up at alarming rates."

    The Labour Department and Occupational Health and Safety say they have raided 33 Auckland `backyard' clothing factories over the last month. Chief inspector Mike Feely says charges will be laid against at least six businesses for contravening regulations. Some were paying workers less than the minimum wage. He also says that a number of removal orders were served on foreign workers from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia who were working here illegally. Feely says at least one of the manufacturers was producing clothing for a large national retailer.

    Capral Aluminium NZ will shed 100 staff as it closes its Wiri plant later this year. Capral has purchased Fletcher Aluminium in Hamilton and its shifting its operation there.

    19 January 2000

    Steve Maharey says new abatement rates for working beneficiaries will soon be trialed. He also hopes to get something into this year's budget regarding child care costs for working beneficiaries. Ministry of Social Policy briefing papers outlined how beneficiaries are struggling to move into paid work because of high abatement rates, child care costs and income tax rates.

    Maharey also signals changes to the work-for-the-dole scheme, which will not demand that beneficiaries participate. The new approach will ask councils and community groups to offer work to beneficiaries. The government would continue to pay the equivalent of the dole and the groups then top up the pay packet to at least the minimum wage. He says ten councils are keen to participate.

    Employers will soon have to report to a new bureau on the progress they have made in providing equal employment opportunities for their staff. Women's Affairs minister Laila Harré plans to establish a new agency that will combat "entrenched attitudes and institutional responses to women's and girl's perceived roles".

    Residential summer schools to teach mature people new skills are being proposed in Britain. Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett says the government can do more to help people cope with the transition to retirement, and he is keen to provide residential training courses to help people be productive in their old age. Blunkett: "We need to link that transition into the latter years of work so that people can get advice on retirement, meaningful activities, development of their own interests, and perhaps be inspired to take on a new challenge..."

    20 January 2000

    Helen Clark says the government is working on legislation aimed at boosting the number of apprenticeships. The government will establish an apprenticeship incentive fund to encourage employers to take on additional apprentices. The wage rate for apprentices will be set after consultation with the ITOs and unions involved in the industry.

    Clark: "The need for a modern apprenticeship system is obvious. Without the skilled workforce that apprenticeship systems are designed to deliver, New Zealand's economic performance relative to other countries, and with it our standard of living, drops. As a nation, we deserve better"

    Robert Reid of Unite! says the Employers Federation's call to deny the unemployment benefit to sacked workers lacks justice. He says that no person should be made to stay in an unsatisfactory job and that anyone who is sacked, whether it is justified or unjustified should be entitled to a benefit. Reid: "Why punish a worker and her or his family for the illegal action of an employer?"

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