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Maharey Speech: Future Work And Future Incomes

Hon Steve Maharey

Future Work And Future Incomes – Building A Constituency For Research And Action

Opening address to the Future Incomes conference. City Council Chambers, Palmerston North.

Introduction

In adding my words of welcome to that of my friend and Party colleague, her worship the Mayor Jill White, let me thank those who have organised and sponsored this event – the Local Employment Committee, the Community Employment Group, and the Palmerston North City Council.

I have a very direct connection with all three.

Local Employment Committees

Local Employment Committees fall within the ambit of the Department of Work and Income. In don't want to talk at length about LECs today, apart from noting that they will have a very significant role to play in underpinning the regionalisation of service delivery in the Department of Work and Income. We came to Government with the express intention of ensuring that the Department of Work and Income did justice to its dual mandate of providing income support and employment services.

This is what we said in the Labour Manifesto:

"We will require Work and Income New Zealand to operate with a clear distinction between the needs of job seekers and non-jobseekers. This will mean some internal re-organisation within Work and Income New Zealand so that employment issues are dealt with by staff who are specialists in labour market issues"

That is what we are doing – no expensive decoupling of incomes support and employment services, no 'one size fits all' remedy handed from on high in Wellington, but a regionalisation of service delivery that will enable Regional Commissioners and regional staff to better align service delivery with the needs of local communities.

And that is where LECs will really come into their own. I have to say that the performance of LECs has been patchy, and 'patchy' is not a performance indicator that I am prepared to tolerate. The Department of Work and Income reports quarterly on a variety of performance measures, including the activities of LECs. I will be monitoring the performance of LECs very carefully to ensure that they provide an effective interface between the Department, regional Commissioners in particular, and local stakeholders.

Community Employment Group

The Community Employment Group is now back as a service unit of the Department of Labour.

Again, this was a move clearly foreshadowed before the election.

In the Labour Party manifesto document, Opportunity: A Nation at Work, Labour committed itself to examining

"the role of Community Employment (formerly the Community Employment Group) in light of its amalgamation into WINZ (sic) and ensure its continuation as a community development agency. The Community Employment Group achieved positive outcomes through the development of regional programmes supporting economic and job growth, and was widely supported by communities and local bodies. The inclusion of CEG within Work and Income New Zealand occurred without adequate consultation with stakeholders and raised concerns that the Group's focus on community development will be lost."

I am delighted to say that, as a result of the Labour-Alliance Government's decision to place the Group in the Department of Labour the institutional capacity that we were concerned about prior to the election has been protected. I now have a great deal to do with the Group. I meet with them regularly. I spoke at their National Conference last week. The Community Employment Group is back ,and they are running.

Local Government

The third connection is with the Palmerston North City Council. I was a city councillor here for three years. My involvement with the City Council clearly pre-dated my progression into national politics. But that experience – public service at the local or municipal level – is the foundation on which so much has been built. Her worship the Mayor went in the opposite direction. We are both of the view that effective public policy requires a partnership between central and local government.

So there are three points of connection.

Let me say something more about the first two – in the case of both the regionalisation of service delivery in the Department of Work and Income and the move of CEG back to the Department of Labour, these represent the Labour Alliance Government honouring election pledges. They represent an attempt to rehabilitate the notion of an electoral mandate.

Let me clear – we have not done, nor will we do, everything that we would have liked to. Some in this audience may contest this, but there are fiscal realities, and within the fiscal constraints that the Government has to work in my Cabinet colleagues and I have to prioritise.

It would be the height of arrogance to expect every single stakeholder to share those priorities. And I fully expect the pressure to be kept on the Government to revisit them, and to do more.

But let me political for a moment and say to this audience that key stakeholders will need to decide whether they want to work with a Government that shares their general aspirations, and deal in a mature fashion with those differences that will inevitably arise, or whether they prefer the oppositional mode – organising heroically, but let me say with little effect, to frustrate the intentions of a Government not disposed towards what it is we all agree with.

I suggest that it might be useful from time to time to reflect on these issues. I have never subscribed to the view that voters and interest groups are myopic, but from time to time I am concerned both at how readily people forget the very recent past, and how short-sighted they are when our joint energies should be directed to building the kind of coalition of interest and support that is capable of sustaining a long term centre-left government.

In conclusion let me come back to manifesto commitments again, and to Labour's pre-election commitment to focus research activity, within the public service and more widely around the future of work.

This is an issue that I have a personal interest in, and I know that it is shared by many in this room.

Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs

Others with whom the Government is engaging, including the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs also share it. Some of you may be aware that the Government and the Mayors' Taskforce for Jobs recently recorded shared principles and commitments in a Memorandum of Understanding. Her Worship Jill White is a member of the Mayors core group.

The Memorandum of Understanding includes the following two clauses:

What we are most concerned about are the long-term trends on work and income in our communities. The parties to this memorandum affirm that there is no continuing justification for the ‘waste of New Zealanders’ through unemployment. There needs to be a concerted leadership effort at both local and central government level about the future of work and livelihood and the creation of more opportunities for our children’s children.

The jobs of the future will certainly still come from new business opportunities. However, future employment will also be driven by our collective choices to value the new work that needs to be done and ensure Maori and Pacific Island people also have access to these new work opportunities. This will require a shift in thinking about what we value and the parties can play an important governance role in leading these choices on behalf of our communities.

Future work

The Government is committed to doing its part in this process. Work has already started within the Department of Labour's Labour Market Policy Group – and there are members of that Group with us at the Conference today – on researching the future of work.

In the last Budget the Government announced a commitment of $2.09 million over the next 4 years, starting with an allocation for Budget 2001/02. While that allocation will not formally start until 1 July next year, work has already commenced on this exciting project.

That work will focus on future trends in work, both globally and in New Zealand, and their implications for the workplace, the workforce, and employment opportunities.

This year the work involves;

(a) scoping and investigating potential areas for research work;

(b) overviewing key issues for the future performance of the labour market (key demographic, skill, industry & occupational & social trends, etc), as part of a labour market strategy document which will be produced for Ministers due by the end of October (and which is tentatively titled Workforce 2010); and,

(c) undertaking a stocktake of issues in the digital divide area (and implications for skills, access etc).

This will provide the basis of a more detailed work programme which will rollout next year.

What also excites me about this work is the potential to very quickly make the connections with the operational and delivery sides of the public service. Already the Department of Labour and the Department of Work and Income are exploring the scope for joint work on some "future work" issues namely

 mature workers, and
 the nature of jobs that the Department of Work and Income have access to (compared with the distribution throughout the economy more generally)

So what this adds up to is a period right now of scoping and investigating
a number of issues, and then building a research agenda, some of which will
be started this year, with much more to be done next year.

I look forward to discussing the progress with this research at future conferences of this kind.

For the moment it gives me great pleasure to wish you well for this conference. I am very much looking forward to joining with you in some animated discussion.


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