New Figures Show Community Wage Sanctions Rarely Used

  • Peter McCardle
Associate Minister of Social Services, Work and Income (Work and Income)

In the first two months since the Community Wage was introduced only 81 people have had their payments reduced or suspended, out of the total of more than 160,000 on the Community Wage, Associate Work and Income Minister Peter McCardle said today.

"In the beginning, opponents tried to paint a picture of vast numbers of people being sanctioned, despite assurances that the penalties were intended to be a necessary last resort. The latest figures from Work and Income New Zealand show the claims of the critics and the Opposition were absurd," Mr McCardle said.

"Only .05 per cent of Community Wage jobseekers have had a reduction or suspension of their Wage.

"The penalties are a final backup, and are not imposed willy-nilly. They are needed in situations where a person refuses to take part in an activity that would help them gain employment and jobhunting skills, a work record, or to improve their chances of finding a job. Other means are tried first, such as negotiation and trying to work through a problem by discussion. Commonsense is the key, and there is both a warning process and an appeal process in place.

"A warning is the first step. Over half the jobseekers who were initially warned that their Community Wage payment might be suspended due to misbehaviour or slack performance have subsequently changed their stance, and suffered no penalty.

"In fact, some Work and Income staff have commented to me that they are surprised at the amount of publicity in the media about the potential penalties, when they know suspensions or reductions are rare. The penalties are a necessary backstop for dealing with a tiny number of jobseekers, and are effective. However for the vast majority of unemployed people taking part in work programmes, it's not clearly not an issue.

"The principle of using sanctions is not new, and has been part of the rules governing the Community Taskforce scheme for a number of years. It is important that there are consequences for refusing to carry out training or work, just as there are for people in paid jobs."

Mr McCardle said the number of people on Community Work projects is rising fast around the country. "Those jobseekers are gaining enormous benefit and there is a wide range of organisations taking part as sponsors, contrary to the predictions of the Opposition and other critics who'd claimed there would be no support for Community Work. It has support because it is a good idea, and will get people out of the dead end rut of long term unemployment and back onto the pathway to paid work."