Community Work boycott fails - 30,000 jobseekers participating so far

  • Peter McCardle
Associate Minister of Work and Income

Over the 1998/1999 year approximately 30,000 unemployed people have taken part in Community Work projects and its predecessor Community Taskforce, despite the attempt by the Labour Party to drum up a boycott, Associate Work and Income Minister Peter McCardle said today.

"Our target has been reached and Labour's campaign has had negligible support or impact. In fact, even some of the small group of organisations which initially said they would not take part are now doing so. I commend them for ignoring the nonsense spread about Community Work, and realising its benefits."

The numbers of jobseekers on Community Work projects at any given time varies, but currently 9,600 are taking part around the country. Most projects are small-scale and use one or two people.

Over 4700 organisations (sponsors) have taken on workers to date, and new sponsors are being added each week.

Community Work focuses on people out of work for a long time, and who are generally unskilled and unqualified. WINZ has many other options for jobseekers, and Community Work is one of the last-resort options for the most hard to place unemployed. Nevertheless the number one priority is finding them a paid job, if possible.

In addition to those on Community Work, there are tens of thousands of people in other activities doing sensible and practical training such as gaining computer and job hunting skills, learning how to job search and write a CV.

"I am very pleased that we have reached our target, which was to have a range of 25 to 30,000 disadvantaged jobseekers, primarily the long term unemployed, taking part over the first year," Mr McCardle said. "By participating, those people are becoming better equipped to compete for jobs instead of falling further and further behind. Clearly it is better to be active and busy between jobs, rather than passively sitting at home doing nothing. And at the same time lots of worthwhile work is being done for communities nationwide, schools in particular."

The sponsors range from the Auckland Bangladeshi community and other ethnic organisations, to the Salvation Army, Councils, marae, employment trusts and schools. Around a third of sponsors are schools. The work being done in schools is diverse - from classroom assistance to administrative work and grounds maintenance. One of the rules governing these projects is that no paid staff are displaced by Community Wage workers.

"The benefits for jobseekers include a recent work record, practical work experience, a reference from the sponsor, and personal benefits such as improved self esteem and social contact. Even having a daily routine whereby a jobseeker has a plan for the day maintains self esteem. On the other hand, low self esteem and self confidence are barriers to finding a paid job.

"However, doing Community Work is of course no guarantee a jobseeker will move into a paid job instantly, although gaining a job is the eventual goal. Nevertheless, some jobseekers have moved straight into paid work and the others gain a better chance of getting a future job."

Community Work is for long term unemployed (more than six months out of work) or at risk of falling into that category. Due to their lack of skills, qualifications and recent work experience, many people in this group are unplaceable in their current state, and cannot compete against other workers for vacancies.

It is a "staircase" measure, and a step towards a paid job, but other steps are usually needed, including other WINZ pre-employment schemes. WINZ concentrates on helping the long-term unemployed because the newly-unemployed generally have fewer problems finding work.

WINZ places large numbers of beneficiaries into paid jobs directly each day, while others find their own jobs in part due to the help given by the new "case management" approach taken by WINZ, a key part of the new strategy.

"Community Work is succeeding, jobseekers are enthusiastic about their work, and lots of valuable work is being done for the community. It is a win/win situation all round, " Mr McCardle concluded.