Regions need these migrants

August 18, 2016

Duncan Garner asks why New Zealand is giving visas to migrants to work in retail and cafés.

Someone with the right attitude, and reasonable numeracy and literacy ought to be able to be trained for that work without too much trouble.

But in the regions, especially in less populous areas,  getting people with all that isn’t easy.

The pool of available labour is small and often very shallow.

A café  owner in a small village with a tiny permanent population and more than 40 kilometres from a reasonable sized town regularly struggles to get staff.

She has employed all the locals who are willing and able to work so ends up with migrants, usually young people most of whom want short to medium term work.

Every time any of her staff leaves she has to go through the same rigmarole even though it might only be a few weeks, and sometimes days since she’s been through it before.

She advertises and almost always gets only people from overseas replying. She then has to go to WINZ to ensure there’s no-one on their books who could do the work, and there hasn’t been yet. Only then can she employ a foreigner.

Cities might be awash with people needed for retail and cafes but tourism is booming in the southern South Island and there simply aren’t enough locals to fill these jobs in the small towns and villages.

That begs the question of who’s responsible for getting the people on WINZ’s books work-ready. But if you’re a small business, like most shops and cafés you can’t afford the time or money it takes to train someone who hasn’t got the basic skills to hold down a job; you need people ready and able to fill vacancies and more often than not there aren’t locals who can.


Some are ‘pretty damned hlopeless’

April 14, 2016

Finance Minister Bill English has been criticised for telling the truth – some job seekers are pretty damned hopeless:

Finance Minister Bill English is not backing down from his comments that some Kiwis hunting for work are “pretty damned hopeless” and “can’t read and write properly”.

At a Federated Farmers meeting in Feilding last week English said there was a “cohort of Kiwis now” who couldn’t get a licence because they were illiterate and “don’t look to be employable”.

His comments were directed at “young males” who didn’t turn up to work or didn’t stay on when offered a job. . . 

English says those comments were supported by what the Government heard from dozens of New Zealand employers.

“…many of the people on our Ministry of Social Development list will not show up to the jobs they are offered and will not stay in the jobs that they are offered”.

He said that was a “realistic description of the problems we are dealing with” and if Lees-Galloway couldn’t handle that, then “he is out of touch”. . . 

This is indeed a realistic description of the problem.

A few years ago we were trying to employ people from overseas and were told the local WINZ office had job seekers who could do the job.

Our office manager and I went in to the office to see if there was anyone suitable. There wasn’t.

I said to the WINZ staff member that, given there was a shortage of farm workers, people on her books were unlikely to be anyone we’d want to employ. She agreed with me and signed the form enabling us to employ the overseas worker.

The young people the Minister referred to may well have had dreadful upbringings, little or no family support, changed school often, poor literacy and numeracy, no driver’s licence, no work ethic, and/or problems with alcohol and drugs.

That is a significant problem for them and society at large but employers who need someone to do a job safely and well are very unlikely to risk employing them.

What government and its agencies, NGOs and businesses can and ought to do about the problem might be debatable but that this is the problem is not.

Update:

The Hansard transcript of the questions and answers shows not only is the government aware of the problem it is doing something about it:

Iain Lees-Galloway: Does he stand by the statements made to a meeting of Federated Farmers that there is “a cohort of Kiwis who now can’t get a licence because they can’t read and write properly and don’t look to be employable—you know, basically, young males” and that a lot of Kiwis available for work are, in his words, “pretty damned hopeless”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and I welcomed the presence of the member who strode to the front of the Federated Farmers meeting and sat there showing complete attention to everything I said, for about 20 minutes.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Does he stand by his statement that one of the reasons why immigration is “a bit more permissive” is that, in his words, Kiwis are “pretty damned hopeless”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the member is mixing a couple of different statements there. I referred to the common—[Interruption] Well, the Government is at the sharp edge of this every day, and I referred to the common response from New Zealand employers that many of the people on our Ministry of Social Development list will not show up to the jobs they are offered and will not stay in the jobs that they are offered. If the member has not heard that from dozens of New Zealand employers, he is out of touch.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Why, after 8 years of the National Government, has he written off a whole cohort of young men as unemployable because they cannot read or write properly, and what message does it send young New Zealand men that they need to be replaced by migrant workers because, in his words, they are “pretty damned hopeless”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has certainly not written anybody off. In fact, we have poured hundreds of millions into raising the level of educational achievement, job training for young New Zealanders, and individual supervision for every sole parent under the age of 20. Labour left young New Zealanders in such bad shape that even with that investment we still have so much more to do. And if the member cannot handle a realistic description of the problems we are dealing with, then he is out of touch.

Lees-Galloway probably thought he’d land a hit on the Minister.

All he’s done is shown he doesn’t recognise the problem and is out of touch not only with employers but most other people who recognise there is a problem.


Two killed at WINZ office

September 1, 2014

Two people are dead and another seriously injured after being shot in the Ashburton WINZ office:

 

. . . A balaclava-clad man carrying a sawn-off shotgun entered the Work and Income office on the corner of Cass and Moore streets and fired several shots before fleeing on a bike.

The gunman was last seen heading towards the Ashburton river. Shots have reportedly been heard since coming from the river. 

A source told Fairfax Media that one person was shot dead on site and another died at Ashburton Hospital.

Police confirmed that two people had been killed and the third person was in hospital. . . .

This is firstly a tragedy for those who died, their family friends and workmates.

It is also a shock for the community and other public servants:

Ashburton District Mayor Angus McKay said he felt “weak at the knees” when he heard about the shooting at the town’s Work and Income office.

“Ashburton is not this kind of town,” he said.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett called it “an extreme situation and tragedy”, adding that all resources were going into looking after WINZ staff.

She was travelling down to the town this afternoon.

Public Service Association (PSA) said the shooting was a tragedy and nobody should go to work in fear that they might not return home. 

PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff said “Our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragedy,”

“We don’t know what the cause is, but we will be supporting our members from Ashburton Work and Income at this terrible time. . . .

This has already been used for political point scoring on Twitter.

It shouldn’t be.

No political views justify killing innocent people at work.

It’s a tragedy.


Fathers matter too

February 5, 2014

Andrei left a comment on a post a couple of days ago which warrants further discussion.

He wrote:

A young man gets a young woman pregnant. In days of yore he would have most likely married her and taken financial responsibility directly for her and their child. If marriage wasn’t possible for whatever reason the child would have most likely been adopted – a sad situation.

But today the most likely outcome is for the young woman to go onto the DPB and if the young man is at the start of his working life and on low wages it is a financial no brainer for her to do this, she’ll get more money and retain “her independence” – well sort of, not really but it will appear that way.

But the young man – well he is in deep do dos. See he is wacked by the IRD for the upkeep of his child and the mother of said child cannot maintain a romantic style relationship with him without breaking the law and risking her benefit and therefore must distance herself and child from him.

And in a great many cases that young man is now better off not working because the reward for his labours is so low, and the money taken from him while in principle is for his child, his child who he might never see, is no better off no matter how hard he works or doesn’t.

And young men caught this way find themselves in a poverty trap with no way out except perhaps absconding to a place where the IRD can’t find them.

I know three young men in this position and there is no way forward for them – and no chance of ever starting a regular family.

If I understand the system correctly, if a couple goes through WINZ, the amount the liable parent pays is based on how much s/he earns but the custodial parent gets a set amount based on the number of children, not what her/his former partner pays.

If the earner gets a pay rise, s/he pays more but the payment to his/her family doesn’t change.

That’s the bind the young men Andrei writes of are in.

But there are ways out.

When friends’ marriage broke up they were advised to settle payments for their children between themselves.

That way the mother, who in this case was the major breadwinner, paid less, and the father received more than if they had gone through WINZ.

This will only work if the working parent has a better than average income and the care giving parent can trust him or her to pay the agreed amount when it is due.

If the earning parent is on low wages or can’t be trusted, it would be safer for the caregiver to go through official channels.

The young men in  Andrei’s comment obviously aren’t earning much.

However, there is a way out for them too.

If the children’s mother starts working, as they are being encouraged and assisted to do, the benefit abates and so, presumably, does the amount the liable parent has to pay towards it.

The focus for assistance has been on the caregiver, but non-custodial parents, in this case the fathers, matter too.

Andrei’s young men are at least as much in need of encouragement and help to find work as the mothers.

If they are on what were called unemployment benefits, they should be getting assistance to find a job and possibly up skill so they can get a better one which will pay more and ensure they can start getting ahead.

Not only they, but their children, will be better off for having parents in work, and not just in financial terms.

The answer to the difficult situation Andrei describes isn’t a handout.

It’s a hand up so both parents can help themselves and their children and neither will have to worry about any agency concerning itself about their romantic arrangements.


Employing Kiwis first

August 27, 2013

Why do we need immigrant workers when there are so many New Zealanders unemployed?

One answer to that question is that sometimes immigrants are better than locals.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse broached the issue in a speech last week:

. . . I want to share with you my thoughts on the ‘Kiwis first’ policy in the context of migrant labour because there is debate about the number of overseas workers in our workforce and this raises a number of issues.

The broader context to that debate is simply this: the opposition often cries “Where are the jobs?” And they do so at a time when, for every Kiwi receiving an unemployment benefit there are between 3 and 4 foreign nationals working in New Zealand on various types of visas. So what many of those who ask “where are the jobs?” are really saying is “where are the jobs that are in exactly the place I want, doing the type of work I want, paying what I think I should earn and tolerating all of my shortcomings”.

And the employers who say that prospective kiwi employees are too hard to train, have bad attitudes and are generally unhappy with the quality of some of the New Zealanders they have been offered by Work and Income need to also reflect on their efforts. I appreciate that employers might not always get exactly what they want, and I acknowledge that for some young New Zealanders there are barriers to employment.

Four barriers spring to mind: education and skills, mobility, attitude and recreational drug and alcohol use. But they are barriers to overcome, not immoveable impediments. In the short term migrant labour will ease this problem, but I get the feeling that some employers and some industries have become overly reliant on this as a long-term salve.

In the future I expect industries that are successful in having an occupation added to a Skills in Demand list, or an employer granted an Approval in Principal to employ temporary migrant labour will, as a condition of the continuation of that status, be more energetic in working with Government to find a long term solution, and more diligent in demonstrating to me that they are doing all they can to ease their labour shortages domestically.

I won’t constrain a firm’s ability to grow in the short term, but I will be encouraging and expecting them to invest in New Zealanders by up skilling and training them so they have an opportunity to maximise their potential. . .

When were were applying to employ an immigrant the Immigration Department told us that WINZ had several people on their unemployed list who could work for us.

We went into WINZ to discuss the possibilities. This was a few years ago when unemployment was low. I said we could manage someone without experience but doubted there was anyone on WINZ’s books who would have that attitude we were looking for.

The consultant agreed with me and signed the immigration form saying there was no-one suitable on her books.

Unemployment is higher now so this shouldn’t be the case.

Unfortunately it sill is.

Some people don’t just want a job. As the Minister said, they want a job in a particular place, doing what they choose, paying what they think they’re worth and accepting of their shortcomings.

This isn’t just difficult for employers it makes work difficult, sometimes dangerous, for other employees.

However, while employers’ first responsibility is to their business, employees and customers, we can’t always expect to get exactly the employees we want.

We shouldn’t be expected to take on the unemployable but we can’t expect the government and other employers to do all the training and upskilling of those who, with a bit of time and effort, could be employable.

That said, maybe there’s a role for Landcorp in training agricultural workers:

Outgoing chief executive of the state owned farming enterprise, Landcorp, says it could play a greater role in industry good functions such as training and technology transfer.

But that would require the agreement of Landcorp’s sole shareholder, the Government. . . 

Chirs Kelly . . . says under the SOE Act, Landcorp is required to operate profitably. . . 

“I think if Landcorp can pass on some of its successes and help lift farming generally in New Zealand that will do a lot for the country itself ,so I see we do have a bit of an industry role as well, but it is a bit of a dichotomy with the SOE Act.”

There is such a thing as a social dividend and that would include training, for which Landcorp has a good reputation.

But there’s an awful lot of money tied up in the company which makes very low returns on capital.

Rather than making even less to fulfil a social role it would be better to sell the farms and invest at least some of the proceeds in education and training.


MSD privacy holes

October 15, 2012

Keith Ng followed a tip-off that parts of the Ministry of Social Development’s corporate network could be accessed from public computer kiosks in WINZ offices.

What he found wasn’t so much leaks as gaping holes.

This looks like more than a systems failure.

Any organisation which has private information ought to have someone who ensures that it is kept private and can’t be accessed accidentally or deliberately by anyone not authorised to it.

Ng is a freelance journalist and spent almost a week uncovering this huge security lapse. If you want to support his work you can make a donation here.


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