Friday, December 29, 2006

Maia vs WINZ: The Reality

My Planning and Assement Module* appeared to be going well; I really liked the guy who was running our first session he was giving us all this information about entitlements that I didn't expect (non-beneficiary accomodation supplement, recoverable and non-recoverable grants, targetted assistance - he covered it all). I noticed a sign advertising courses WINZ provided that were run by privately owned companies - I made a little note to myself - thinking that I could write a nice little blog post about privatisation through sub-contracting.

Then my casemanager came in. It was the guy who had run the previous seminar. The only consolation I had was that he was as worried about seeing me as I was at seeing him. As we walked over he told me that I wasn't to interupt him to talk about the inaccuracies of his hypotheticals.**

So we went and sat down, it seemed relatively easy, until we got to the job-seeker part of the deal.

I think it is time for a little diversion. Once upon a time a man named Peter McCardle was working as a work-broker (or possible at Social Welfare it doesn't really matter), he would see people looking for work (or possibly applying for the benefit) and think 'why can't there be a one stop shop where people can apply for the benefit and look for work'. Now this story wouldn't matter that much if he didn't end up on the NZ First Party List at the 1996 election, when the New Zealand public, showing a well-placed cynicism in all politicians (with unfortunate results), gave NZ First the balance of power. So National, who at this stage were prepared to raise the minimum wage to keep in power - they certainly weren't going to object to some restructuring of the public service, announced that Soical Welfare was going to merge with the employment office, just like Peter McCardle wanted.

I swear that one of the pieces of paper had "Thank you for choosing WINZ for part of your work search" - obviously a new use of the term 'choice' previously only used by anti-abortion nut-jobs.

From my experience there are three really important reasons why having WINZ also offer employment services is a bad idea. One is straight incompetence, the case-managers are badly trained, and there's extremely high turnover. The benefit side of WINZ is largely mechanical, job-matching less so - so job-matching looses out. My case-manager didn't know what to do when 'union organiser' wasn't in any of the databases. He couldn't load that in either as the jobs I was looking for, or (more disturbingly) the last job I had. We spent a good ten minutes trying to find any job in there that in anyway matched 'union organiser' (Him: "What about HR Manager" Me: "Not so much").

The other problem is that it makes it easier for social welfare to use the job-search as part of the ways it sanctions beneficiaries. Most people would argue that this was the point of loading WINZ up with employment in the first place (and that's entirely possible), and I wouldn't disagree, but I suspect it's counter-productive.

One of the most ridiculous activities was looking at a list of fifteen skills and number my top ten. Several of them I had no idea what they meant (and I picked reading comprehension as one of my skills). "Co-ordination Adjusting actions in relation to other's actions" - whether or not I'm good at that really does depend on the actions that are being talked about. Based on the ten I chose I had to be put into a talent pool (their words). The talent pools were a standard array of low-wage jobs. Many of the talent pools such as caregiver, retail and customer service are casualised industries that have little chance of delivering anyone full-time hours (which is supposed to be the goal of all this).

I want to make it really clear that I'm not arguing that caregiving, customer service, and retail are beneath me because I'm a middle-class white girl with an MA, and a professional job. That work is not beneath me, or anyone else - but the conditions that those jobs are done in, the part time casualised nature of the industries, with your hours of work at the whime of the employer - those conditions are bad for the vast majority of workers. It's also not a solution to unemployment, because people cycle in and out, one week they earn enough the next they don't. Taking the attitude that an on-call job (where you don't actually get called) is better than nothing, does not keep people off the unemployment benefit, long term. What does (apart from changing the monetary policy so that workers' lives aren't used to fight inflation) is making sure people are in jobs that will give them a livelihood. For most people pushing them into insecure employment makes secure employment further away, not closer.

The third reason why social welfare and employment should be two seperate areas was made clear to me during my session. My case manager wanted me to go on a course. Since my only goal of the entire session was 'no WINZ courses', I put up a strong case why that would be a bad idea.** When he agreed not to send me on the course he said "I was just testing you, I wanted to see what you would say, I can see that your confident, and you know what to do so you don't have to go."

Now I've no idea if he really was, or whether he was trying to save face. But what he said was true, confidence is hugely important when you're looking for jobs. It's a completely confidence destroying business putting yourself out there for rejection. The more confidence you have in yourself, the more likely you are to be able to keep on going, the less likely you are to be depressed by the job hunt and unemployment.

WINZ does not give people confidence, because case-managers tend to treat every person who come through their doors as if they've done something wrong.**** This destroys people's confidence and makes them feel like shit (not to mention the power WINZ has over people's livihood). I think fighting this attitude towards beneficiaries is a very important project, but it's a long term project. If Social Welfare and Employment had never merged, then the work search could be happening in . I think that'd be much more likely to get people into jobs with secure hours that match their skills and experience (putting people in other sorts of jobs as a stop-gap measure makes unemployment levels look good, but if anythign it adds to government costs as people are less likely to stay in their jobs, and getting people on the benefit is a long process).

*That's WINZ speak for applying for a benefit, it as euphamistically named as you might expect, there was little assessment and less planning.

** I've realised since that he probably felt that I had shown him up at the previous seminar (I'd pointed out inaccuracies and argued, and other people had joined in). He appeared to be quite new and struggle a bit with the software and the forms. I'm worried that this is going to end badly. I suspect the combination of not knowing what to do, and not wanting to lose face is why he sent me home before the interview was finished.

*** Unfortunately I missed the main argument, which was that he couldn't send me on a course until my benefit started. I'm not entitled till the twelth, and the course he wanted me to go on started on the eighth.

**** I'm going to meet with my case manager in six weeks if I haven't find a job in his words 'to find out what you're doing wrong'. Maybe not finding a job in six weeks over the Christmas break isn't anything that I've done wrong.

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