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    Letter No.121
    27 March, 2000

    1 March 2000

    A lack of pickers in the Hawkes Bay will mean much of the fruit may not be harvested this year. Winz has posted 600 vacancies for pickers and the local growers association has set up a helpdesk to help co-ordinate the exchange of pickers between orchards. The season lasts until the end of March.

    2 March 2000

    A study is being carried out on the relationship of unemployment and premature death. The preliminary findings indicate that unemployed people have a 25% higher chance of premature death compared to those who are working. Researcher Tony Blakely of the Wellington School of Medicine is undertaking a studies from the 1981, 1986 and 1996 census to identify the medical effects of the social change of the last fifteen years.

    Opposition MPs grill Steve Maharey on whether State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham has warned him off criticising Winz boss Christine Rankin. There is speculation that if Rankin is sacked, comments Maharey made could lead to her bringing a constructive dismissal case against the government.

    A volunteer fire chief in the Far North, Joe Carr, urges the government to push ahead with economic development plans for the region. Carr makes this statement after he and his firefighters are abused when they attend a housefire in the township of Horeke. He says action is needed to provide employment, as Maori in the area had no jobs, low self-esteem and some are being destroyed by alcohol.

    The Fire Service says it needs more women firefighters. Only 16 of the country's 1,500 paid firefighters are women.

    3 March 2000

    It is revealed that two days before the November elections, the Labour Department warned that a rise in the minimum wage could cost about 2,500 young people their jobs. The department's paper also referred to the minimum wage as a poorly targeted mechanism and unlikely to reach many of those needing assistance.

    Also at election time, Treasury warned the government that a reduction in the repayment schedule for student loans could lead to students borrowing unnecessarily and could even attract third parties to manage loans on students' behalf for the purpose of investing the interest free funds.

    Britain's Media Trust has produced a six-part television programme for training volunteers. The trust identified lack of skills on the part of volunteers and lack of time to train them as significant barriers to community groups taking on new volunteers. The TV series, which is supported by a 40 page booklet, has been run three times and has been widely taped and used as a resource by many of Britains 500,000 community and voluntary groups.

    5 March 2000

    The Christchurch City Council's economic development unit is to set up a $5m venture capital fund for young technology firms. Expected to be in place by June, it aims to attract wealthy investors interested in backing high risk information technology projects.

    6 March 2000

    The new minimum wage rates come into effect. Act's Muriel Newman calls the rise heartless, referring to the Labour Department officials warning that youth jobs will be at risk. However, Minister of Youth Affairs and Associate Minister of Labour, Laila Harre says the increase in the minimum wage will discourage the exploitation of workers. Harre says that employers should pay wages that will meet people's living costs. She argues that without a viable minimum wage, the country's 200,000 unemployed competing for work would drive wages lower and lower.

    Jim Anderton says there is huge interest in his proposals for community banking services. He says that if commercial banks are ignoring the rights of individuals or charging too much for minimum banking services, then the state has an obligation to provide these services. Anderton and Michael Cullen, however, appear to have differing views on how the service may be delivered. Anderton proposes a new trading bank offered through the over 400 NZ Post Shop outlets. Cullen, however, sees NZ Post Shops merely acting as an agency for existing banks such as it currently does for the TSB Bank.

    As many as 1,200 beneficiaries are expected to do fruit picking "courses" in the Bay of Plenty, in a programme jointly organised by pip fruit growers and Winz. In a drive to get the apple crop picked, beneficiaries will be paid the dole but it will be up to individual orchardists if they want to top up the "wages". Winz staff are operating around the district seeing that people were getting to and from the orchards. Stewart Horn of the Hawkes Bay Fruitgrowers Association says government agencies want to provide local people with work, but he says many of the unemployed are not interested. Pipfruit Growers Association chairman Phil Alison has called for government to ease work permits restrictions in future years to allow people from Asia and the Pacific to pick fruit.

    7 March 2000

    Up to 12,000 jobs are at risk because of the government's native forest logging policies, according to National MP Tony Ryall. He says his party's sustainable forestry policies helped the furniture industry grow 29% last year and that under the new policies it is possible that the industry may not survive.

    8 March 2000

    The NZ Treasury is forecasting unemployment to average about 5.5% over the next couple years. It also expects economic growth to hit 4% later this year before dropping off to about 2.5% for the following two years. Treasury also expects inflation and interest rates to rise.

    9 March 2000

    The government's Budget Policy Statement indicates its intention to play a sizeable and long-term role in the economy. In contrast to the previous government, Treasurer Michael Cullen announces that government surpluses will be used to fund national superannuation rather than pay down the national debt.

    Steve Maharey ends work-testing for people on invalids benefits. He says the evaluation of the trial held last year showed the policy was "completely useless". He says people with disabilities want to work and he prefers to put money into positive programmes that remove barriers to their employment.

    The government owned company Health Benefits is to remain in Wanganui. The company, which processes the claims for subsidies submitted by doctors and pharmacists, had been earmarked for closure, with the services shifting to Wellington. The announcement by Helen Clark is met with tears and applause by workers, whose jobs had been under threat for 18 months. Increasing use of electronic processing at the company, however, will still see about half of the 130 Health Benefits jobs axed.

    Germany's Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank are to merge. Job losses will be around 16,000 or 11% of the two banks' workforces.

    10 March 2000

    A strong contributing factor in the low achievement attained by Maori students is the conflicting attitudes between their parents and their teachers. Education researcher and teacher Oneroa Stewart says that teachers assume that Maori parents do not know how to help their children with their homework or how to correct behavior. And Maori parents assume teachers do not know how to teach their children. Stewart says that parents and schools need to communicate in order to break down this mutual distrust and lack of confidence. He says that when teachers and parents are seen to be working together and expect higher achievements, the children do better.

    12 March 2000

    Volunteer Awareness Week. The Wellington based Volunteer Centre estimates 70,000 people do voluntary work in the Wellington region.

    13 March 2000

    Eight women have been flown in from Thailand to testify in the Employment Court about an Auckland clothing manufacturing sweatshop they had worked. Some of the Thai nationals tell the court their employer had confiscated their passports, that they had worked four months to repay their airfares and after that netted $575/month for working 72 hrs/wk.

    14 March 2000

    The Employment Relations Bill, the coalition government's replacement for the Employment Contracts Act, is introduced to parliament. Labour Minister Margaret Wilson says the previous law was based on low-trust and that labour relations were left to the courts. Wilson: "I want to see employment being about a relationship, not solely about profit, and not solely about contracts."

    Australian-based Goodman Fielder is conducting a feasibility study aimed at cutting costs. The company operates four flourmills in NZ and there is speculation they could close. With up to 200 jobs on the line, Jim Anderton asks his staff to approach the company and see what the government might do to keep the mills open. The company, however, denies it is considering closing the mills.

    Australia's official unemployment rate hits a ten-year low of 6.7%.

    In parliament, Act leader Richard Prebble tables a leaked memo written by Ian Mackintosh, new chief executive of Te Whanau O Waipareira Trust. In the memo, Mackintosh says that when he took over his job, he had found a serious deficiency in financial planning and budgeting at a corporate and business level. Prebble's comments are directed at Labour MP John Tamihere who was the previous CEO at the trust.

    Prebble also asks questions about $200,000 of Health Funding Authority money paid to Waipareira that found itself in the Aotearoa Maori Football League account. John Tamihere denies any wrong doing and says that Waiperaira " runs a huge accounting operation, it acts as an umbrella for a large range of organisations and to that extent, now and then it gets things wrong."

    15 March 2000

    Health minister Annette King says she is satisfied that problems with HFA funds paid into Waipareira accounts were the result of a clerical error. King says she is assured no health dollars were misused.

    Ian Mackintosh says he is upset that his trust's internal documents have been leaked to the public. He says that the financial systems have been dealt with and that Waipareira's assets exceed its liabilities and it was forecast to break-even or make a small profit this year.

    Christine Rankin appears before the Social Services Select Committee. Act's Muriel Newman says it has never been established who was responsible for the Winz charter flights debacle. Newman says that either the ex-manager misled Christine Rankin or Rankin misled parliament. She says that a non-disclosure clause in the ex-manager's grievance settlement should not preclude the public from knowing who was responsible. Rankin assures the committee she will provide a written answer clarifying culpability and the total cost, including legal advice, of the incident.

    Rankin also tells the committee that she was not paid a bonus last year.

    With the Employment Relations Bill now before parliament, Associate Labour Minister Laila Harre says she will now focus on getting four weeks annual leave for workers and improving paid parental leave.

    16 March 2000

    Frustrated students occupy a central Auckland intersection in protest of delays on their student loans and allowances. In all, 18 are arrested after nearly 200 students march from Auckland University to the Queen St Winz office.

    Winz says that the great majority of student loans have been approved although 16,000 are stalled for lack of detail or confirmation of enrollment. The department also says 18,000 student living allowances are still being processed.

    17 March 2000

    Trevor Mallard says 108 public submissions and 56 staff submissions have been received in the inquiry into management practices at Winz. About 250 community and voluntary groups are also expected to respond to a survey on Winz. The inquiry team is in the process of visiting Winz offices around the country. Mallard says he has asked the team to concentrate on matters that will help ministers identify how the government's social policy could be implemented in the area of employment and income support.

    Hamilton aviation firm Pacific Aerospace gives notice to 29 workers. The firm says a lack of forward contracts may result in even more redundancies.

    19 March 2000

    The Probation Department is investigating allegations that a number of its officers had offered periodic detention and community service workers for work on private projects. People under the department's jurisdiction are prohibited from doing work for private individuals or organisations.

    20 March 2000

    A US oil exploration firm, Swift Energy, announces its discovery of an oil and gas field in South Taranaki. Swift says the find may be large enough to meet all of NZ's petroleum needs.

    NZ'er Steve Outtrim, founder and main shareholder of Sausage Software looks to become this country's riches man when Sausage merges with Solution 6. Outtrim was unemployed six years ago will now own shares worth about $NZ895m.

    The police are investigating the alleged theft of between $80,000 and $100,000 by a former Winz employee in the agency's Turangi office.

    The Citizens Advice Bureaus Association releases a report, "Forgotten People: The Experience of Immigrants to New Zealand". It says that many foreigners, especially those qualified in medicine, dentistry, veterinary and engineering, find that once here they can not get work because their qualifications are mot recognised by registering authorities. The CAB report recommends the Immigration Service's Immigrant Helpline should be expanded; that bridging courses be established to enable people to work; a code of ethics should be developed for immigration consultants; and a new emphasis be placed on stopping discrimination in employment.

    21 March 2000

    Steve Maharey says reducing student debt while people are studying will stop encouraging students from going overseas to evade repaying their student loan. However, the University Students Association says that students going overseas to evade paying their debts are not nearly as concerning as is the number of NZ graduates going overseas to get higher paying jobs in order to repay their loans.

    A decision on the future of Whenaupai and Hobsonville air force bases in Auckland and the Burnham army camp in Christchurch will be made within a few weeks. The three facilities have been earmarked for closure since Coopers & Lybrand made that recommendation to government in 1997. Any decision cabinet makes will affect as many as 3,000 staff.

    22 March 2000

    The Business Roundtable's Roger Kerr tells parliament's finance and expenditure select committee that the government's big spending plans are Muldoonist. Federated Farmers also express serious concerns over the government's intentions of spending an extra $5.9 billion over the next three years saying it would hurt growth and force up interest rates.

    The UN Population Division says that if developed countries do not lift their birth rates there will be major consequences in the future. The study says that, at current birth rate levels, in order to maintain pensions and social services at the present rates, the retirement age will have to be pushed back to between 70 and 75 years or these countries will have to open their door to immigrants to support them.

    Winz says it is holding an internal inquiry into the Waipareira Trust's employment centre after it received an anonymous allegation early this year that the trust had misused employer-related subsidies.

    Wellington City Council is opting to make redundant its rubbish collectors, street cleaners and drainage workers and put these services out to tender. The latest move will affect 150 people and will bring the total number of positions axed from the council payrolls since 1993 to about 700.

    The government unveils plans for modern apprenticeship training. (see feature in this issue)

    23 March 2000

    John Tamihere charges Richard Prebble with "malice and premeditated racism" as Prebble reiterates his claims, under parliamentary privilege, that Waipareira misused pubic money when Tamihere was chief executive. Current Waipareira CEO Ian Mackintosh reports that all information regarding the allegations have been turned over to the Serious Fraud Office. Mackintosh: "We are very satisfied with what we've been able to reconcile."

    PM Helen Clark tells Richard Prebble to "put up or shut up" over the allegations of money misuse at Waipareira.

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