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    Essential Information on an Essential Issue

    Letter No.20

    30 June, 1995

    The multi-party agreement is a document in policy posturing, and a has been a lost opportunity for initiative on jobs. This is the view of the editors of the Jobs Letter on reading the "Memorandum of Understanding" signed at the Beehive on Wednesday by the Alliance, Labour and National Parties, The Memorandum is the last stage in an 18-month long process of public consultation over employment, training and welfare issues. And it is the stage where this Taskforce consultation process more obviously hits a cotton-wool wall,

  • The Memorandum contains few specifics on the implementation of policy guidelines, and does not address any resourcing of initiatives. The detailed and specific proposals for action and timelines contained in last November's Taskforce recommendations are met with general policy posers, and a polite sidestepping of any specific commitments for action. Where the parties cannot find an accord on a particular Taskforce proposal, the document simply restates the established party political positions. It seems that main concensus in the document is found in the re-occurring statement that " ... the specific policies should be the responsibility of the government of the day. "

  • The multi-party group took a decision to restrict its role to accepting points of principle, rather than developing an agreement on a specific programme of action. The memorandum says that "... detailed policy development for all 120 Task Force proposals would have been beyond the present secretarial and research resources of then political parties in the time available." The group chose to leave the question of implementation and resourcing of specific policies " ... to the individual parties as they see fit."

  • As with the Budget Night announcements earlier this month, most of the juicy statements on action and policy changes have already been made in earlier announcements like the Youth Employment Strategy in December 1994, or have been farmed out to further reviews such as the review of Careers Information and Guidance.

  • It is perhaps also unfortunate that the multi-party agreement was signed only hours after the surprise announcement of another political party in Parliament, with seven MP's from three existing parties splitting to form the new centre-right party United NZ. Whether the general policy agreements in the Memorandum will have any durability will be a key question under the rapidly changing MMP political groupings in parliament.

  • Employment Minister Wyatt Creech says that the multi-party agreement was a good example of the type of governance that will be a feature of MMP politics. He says the Memorandum sends a clear signal that "... in these key areas the policies will not change when there is a change in government. The direction will stay the same. People can plan their employment prospects and careers with some confidence..."

    Creech's multi-party partners are not so certain. Jim Anderton : " Basic economic policy was excluded from the Taskforce process, so we could only work around the periphery of the employment issue ...". Steve Maharey : " It falls down on the government's belief that economic growth will solve the problem ..."

  • One of the main platforms of the Taskforce Recommendations was the introduction of national and local employment commissioners who would be an ongoing focus of advocacy on employment issues to the government, and also a point of co-ordination for specific initiatives. This recommendation was clearly side-stepped by the multi-party group who left it to "the government of the day" to develop policies "to improve co-ordination and local responsiveness".

  • All the parties agreed that young people under 20 years should have access to education and training or work. However, they had differing views on the issue of raising the school leaving age to 17 years. Labour and the Alliance want to retain the present leaving age at 16. They believe that "some young people are not necessarily suited to a school environment beyond that age ". National will go ahead with raising the age, but not within the timeframe as recommended by the Taskforce. They say they need more time to allow schools to develop programmes for the older pupils, especially those pursuing non-academic courses.

  • The focus on `individual assistance' in the Taskforce proposals had been coming under some criticism of being a "blame the victim" approach to the social and economic problem of unemployment. The multi-party group expressed some concern that the policies of individual assistance be interpreted positively : "Some people might see certain policies as assigning fault to an individual for whatever labour market obstacles they faced. ... The multi-party group clearly intends this as an effort to help the individual as a person, not, as some may imply, a negative statement about the individual concerned..."

  • The multi-party group did not support the Taskforce proposal for setting aside a portion of the funding for employment programmes as a `contestable fund' available proposals that are tailored to local conditions. They said that this proposal was "not desirable", and endorsed the current funding provisions that are available through the Community Employment Group.

  • The Memorandum gave a special push for Pacific Island policies - something that was felt to be too low-key in the Taskforce proposals. It said that additional recommendations were required to address employment issues for Pacific Island people, particularly by extending the policy proposals that currently apply to Maori.

  • The parties have dispensed with proposals that would have made access to Family Support payments dependent on a family's school-age children attending school or training courses. The Alliance and Labour were opposed to it. National explored the idea and concluded that it was "not administratively feasible".

  • There is no clear concensus offered in the Memorandum on the specifics of changing the benefit abatement rates, other than agreeing that changes to the present regime should be " a legislative priority". The Labour Party opposes the Taskforce recommendation for a dual abatement system.

    The Wellington City Council plans to spend $400,000 in the coming year on employment programmes targeted at Maori, Pacific Islanders and the long-term unemployed. Exact details on how the money will be spent is yet to be decided, but the Evening Post reports that the Council is keen to co-operate with government schemes, and is also likely to spend a proportion assisting community employment initiatives.
    Source Evening Post 16 June 1995 " WCC to target spending on jobs"
    The handling of NZ's first citizen's-initiated referendum seems certain now to invite public scorn over the whole ballot process. The government has announced that a special poll will be held on December 2nd, rather than including the question within the October local body elections. The one-off poll will raise the cost of the referendum from $1.5m to $10m - a point not lost on the detractors of the whole referendum process. A Parliamentary select committee recommended the poll take place with the October elections, but this was rejected by the government. By making a stand-alone poll, the government seems to be concentrating public attention on the whole idea of citizens-initiated referenda itself.

    The first poll is over the job cuts in the restructured Fire Service (see previous Jobs Letters). Firefighters believe, however, that the result of the poll will be academic, as the job cuts will already have been made by the December vote. Warren Cooper says that the restructuring, including cuts to 500 Fire Service jobs, will continue.

    Source Sunday Star-Times 25 June 1995 "And now, the $10m question" (editorial) and The Dominion 23 June 95 "Fire Service may not head off job cuts".
    Associate Employment Minister Roger Maxwell has announced a change of heart by the government by restoring the $90,000 Budget cut from the Student Job Search scheme. This will enable the scheme to expand its services over the next year.
    Source The Dominion 24 June 1995
    Staff cuts in public hospitals already indicated include the loss of 246 full-time jobs at Good Health Wanganui, 35 full-time positions and other staff cuts at Ashburton Hospital, and more job losses (no numbers available) expected at Waikato's Crown Health Enterprise. Expect : more outrage over jobs cuts as more hospital business plans are released over the next few months.
    Source Daily News 13/6/95, "Wanganui CHE Slashes Staff"
    Political damage-control is already underway for the National Party over the health job cuts. Cabinet Ministers have come out at National Party Conferences last weekend urging voters to judge whether health services were actually suffering. Jenny Shipley says that National has to switch the debate away from the number of jobs in the hospital ... to how the health reforms were better meeting health needs.

    Good Health Wanganui chief executive Ron Janes statement to the press on job and service cuts in Wanganui ended up having to be abridged after a phone call from the office of Crown Health Enterprises Minister Paul East. According to the Dominion, Ron Janes' original statement also included : " ...To have the spare capacity to be able to help those in need and not use it is bad enough. But to also shed that capacity so it will not be there when future policies show more vision, is worse."

    Source The Dominion 17 June 1995, quotes section and New Zealand Herald 26 June 1995 "Govt takes up fight against health `myths'"
    Habitat for Humanity is a new charitable trust being launched this week to provide interest-free home ownership for families living on the bread line. The national trust will build 10 homes in Otara, and a further 20 homes throughout the country. They will be sold for about $70,000 each, with a $500 deposit and weekly payments of about $50 or more. Every homeowner must put 500 hours work into their home and any leftover materials or work time is spent on building the next house. The Trust has already bought land in Otara, and the supporting companies will supply materials and labour. Building will start in October. Social Agencies in Auckland have told the NZ Herald that they welcome the initiative, saying that the introduction of market rentals on July 1st will make state homes unaffordable.

    The Habitat for Humanity New Zealand Trust is chaired by Ian Hay, a director of Keith Hay homes. The sponsors include Carter Holt Harvey Insulation, Plyco Doors Ltd, Simpson Appliances, Daimond Industries and James Hardie Pipelines.

    Source New Zealand Herald 22 June 1995 "Interest-Free Homes Plan"
    Registered Unemployed with the New Zealand Employment Service is at 152,739 people for the end of May. This is down 2,244 people from the previous month, and a drop of 30,230 people (or 16.5%) from May last year.

    Against this national drop in jobless, unemployment in Hastings, Napier, Motueka and Nelson has risen due to work in orchards and meatworks winding down. NZ Employment has been focussing on finding work for the long-term unemployed. More than two thirds of the drop of numbers on their register in the last year have come from people who had been unemployed for more than 6 months.

    Source The Dominion 16 June 1995
    New Zealand Employment has confirmed that the people in its "that person was me" TV ads were in fact genuine long-term job-seekers, and not actors, as some comedy-show send-ups of the ads were suggesting.
    Source Sunday Star-Times 18 June 1995

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