On the Community Wage
from The Jobs Letter No.77 / 27 April 1998
"The Coalition Government's new direction in employment treats job seekers as people, not numbers. It's a positive for the job-seeker because they will receive a community wage in return for participating in training, part-time community work, or other activities, where they are provided.
"The philosophy behind the community wage is to treat job-seekers as similarly as possible
to those in paid work, to maximise their employability and work-readiness. This new direction is
also about changing attitudes towards the unemployed. It will help keep job seekers connected to
the workplace and community, to maintain their motivation, and prevent loss of confidence, skills
and self esteem."
"The scheme is the most draconian attack on the unemployed since the forced work schemes
of the 1930s. Forcing people to work for income support under threat of losing their benefit is
no different than slave labour, and treats the unemployed and other beneficiaries as criminals"
"Why would being forced to work in a low-skilled, government-provided job as part of a
work scheme be any different from receiving a government-provided benefit? Neither the benefit
nor the community work was earned by the recipient on his or her own merits. Thus it is difficult
to see how either would help to promote self-respect "
"The sheer size and compulsory nature of the scheme makes it much worse than the
current Community Taskforce where the majority of participants are happy to be there. The
government is already 1,500 places or 23% behind on its pilot work-for-the-dole scheme, and there is no
way they will be able to get the 150,000 people working for the dole if they rely solely on
community groups to provide places. They will have to get businesses such as Telecom and Fletchers
to employ thousands of free workers to get anywhere near their target "
"The scheme is a recipe for abuse. For a start, beneficiaries are not employees. They do not
get holidays, do not seem to be covered by anti-discrimination laws, have no personal
grievance rights, and virtually no protection against sexual harassment. The community work positions
will not be there in the numbers needed, and there will be displacement of real jobs "
"Mr McCardle's consuming passion for employment policy blinkers him. The package is a personal triumph for the former Social Welfare official and employment centre manager.
"The evidence of his extraordinary single-mindedness is his maiden speech to parliament
eight years ago. The bulk of it reads like a carbon copy of Wednesday's announcement "
VOICES : FROM THE EDITORIALS
"No-one believes Unemployment Minister Peter McCardle's `community wage' scheme will be an overnight cure-all. There is no magic wand, and improvements to the jobless statistics will be slow-grown. But it is a start where it is desperately needed.
"Just as the government's Code of Social Responsibility takes a small step towards
re-emphasising the individual and national value of responsible parenting, so do the obligations of the
community wage scheme move towards reminding NZ'ers that education and work, whether we like it
or not, are the country's cornerstones"
"It must be remembered that people are out of work in the large majority of cases because there is insufficient employment for the available workforce. Under these circumstances, considerable imagination will be required to ensure that the work, training or ``other organised activity' that Mr McCardle envisages will not interfere with work already in limited supply for the employed.
"At the same time, the occupations that community wage receivers will be obliged to make
themselves available for should not be of a patronising or undignified nature. That would defeat
the purpose. Mr McCardle enters an area that has challenged many before him _ and the country is
no closer to a solution."
"As the Director-General of Social Welfare, Margaret Bazley, has pointed out, some New Zealanders have never seen their parents work, nor have they expected ever to work themselves. The idea that the State will provide without demanding something in return is well entrenched in some quarters. If Mr McCardle's scheme does anything to combat that attitude, it will do some good.
"The evidence abroad for workfare schemes is, in part, encouraging. Several
misconceptions stand in its way. One is that all who receive the dole will get work in the private sector
eventually, a clearly impossible aim. But the schemes do establish the principle that every family must
send someone into the workforce. Enforce that principle and some of those who are work-shy and
on welfare will try to find jobs. Others may choose to live with breadwinners and raise children. In
a society in which everyone must nevertheless eventually make a contribution, only children and
the elderly can now realistically claim that the State owes them a living"
" By relying largely on voluntary organisations to help administer the new scheme, the Government is shoving a problem on to others' shoulders in order to find a solution to a social and political difficulty. We do not doubt that these groups and the work trusts do an excellent job with limited resources and in often difficult circumstances. We question, however, whether it is the function of charities or voluntary organisations to provide employment, skills training or even opportunities for the unemployed, let alone absorb even a fraction of the 60,000 intended for the scheme in its initial year.
"The lasting solution to unemployment in New Zealand is to create real jobs by applying
imaginative solutions to the problems of joblessness, and measures to stimulate the productive
expansion of the economy. The scale of New Zealand's job-creation needs is no minor matter. A minimum
of 3% economic growth a year is required to absorb the more than 20,000 new job-seekers
each year joining those already looking for work, and to pay for the existing numbers of
"There is no doubt that Mr McCardle's heart is in the right place. The worry is that his colleagues have allowed his devotion to his scheme to overrule their wiser heads
"Too often large-scale work schemes result in the redistribution of unemployment rather than its reduction. Work which would normally be done by unsubsidised workers is instead re-labeled community work and given to the unemployed. That can be avoided by rigorous controls, but that in turn means a new and expensive layer of bureaucracy.
"Then there are the extra costs, especially if the scheme is widened in the imminent Budget
to include those on other schemes, such as the domestic purposes benefit. The US experience is
that the costs, such as the extra allowances and subsidies Mr McCardle has already said will be
paid, along with child-care expenses, can almost double the amount spent on benefits."
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