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Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down!

Wednesday 19th December 2013

Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down!

“With changes to Welfare Law and Employment Law, matters have become increasingly worse for those at the bottom,” says Rebecca Occleston, speaker for Beneficiary Advisory Service (BAS) in Christchurch. “In our country at the moment, there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs available. People on benefits due to lack of work are shamed and marginalised by the system and society alike. Most people want to work and will do so if there is a suitable job available; however, the way the welfare system is now, beneficiaries are often forced to take work that is not suitable for them or lose their benefit. This means that many people are trying out for few positions and employers can be picky.

“The result, then, is that beneficiaries seeking work, against a backdrop of draconian sanctions, will be pitted against those seeking to change jobs from an existing position in the paid workforce. There will then be a “race to the bottom”. As collective bargaining is weakened (by the proposed amendment to the Employment Relations Act) and others related to it, so too will individual terms and conditions fall, as part of the Government’s overall strategy to maintain a low wage economy. The changes in the Employment Relations Amendment bill 2013 shameful and wicked (you can read our submission the select committee on our website: bas.org.nz). Employers can get away with treating employees in this way as the employees’ only alternative is a benefit system that will smack them when they’re down! Being on a benefit has always been hard, but the new changes further penalises this vulnerable group, implying being on the benefit is their fault and making them jump through hoops just to continuing receiving this meagre form of income.”

“What happens,” continues Rebecca, “is that many employers are likely to take non-union workers often for a temporary position with inadequate pay and poor working conditions. So even if you do manage to secure employment and get off a benefit, you may be little to no better off financially, have less time and more stress (remember travel to and from work can take time and money and if you have children, full-time child care can get very expensive) and you may lose the job within 3 months, leaving you back where you started!

“The new proposed Employment Relations Bill especially makes things worse for caretakers, cleaners, catering workers, hospital orderlies and laundry workers. It follows inescapably that the real object of these proposed amendments is to further weaken the position of some of the most vulnerable workers in the country, enabling them to be exploited further.

“This bill repeats the brutal political equation underpinning the deregulation of the labour market under the Employment Contracts Act 1991 and the related benefit cuts under Welfare that Works. The working conditions of the poorest and most vulnerable groups in the paid workforce will be made even worse whilst people receiving social security benefits will be forced to compete with those workers for the limited work available, under threat of “This further shifts the cost of a flexible labour market onto workers and particularly marginalised groups. That cost comes in the recipe for a perfect downwards spiral in terms and conditions of employment, enabling the Government to pursue its policy of a low wage economy run in the interests of the few. It is a shameful formula.”

• Higher basic benefit rates so those currently dependent on the welfare system can afford all their basic needs

• Encouragement and assistance into work for beneficiaries rather than harsh sanctions for those who are unable to find work

• Decent genuine training opportunities for those who want more skills rather than useless waste-of-time courses required by WINZ

• An employment relations act that supports the rights of the workers rather than one that takes all our rights away!


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