Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Seminar spiel a case of deja vu for attendee

Te Maunga Grey says your benefit is cut off if you are even five minutes late for a seminar. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Te Maunga Grey says your benefit is cut off if you are even five minutes late for a seminar. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Merenia Mahara reckons she could just about recite the spiel of a work seminar at Work and Income after attending virtually the same one five times.

Ms Mahara, 20, completed Year 13 at Papakura High School in 2010, but has struggled to find paid work.

She is a volunteer at The Gate church and at Pikorua Community House, has done courses in business management at Best Training and is now studying for level 2 literacy and numeracy at Skills Update in Walters Rd.

Because she has been on the unemployment benefit, Work and Income has also targeted her to attend work seminars.

"They were really pushy. If you were not looking for work, they would totally cut you off," she says.

"Once a week someone would send a letter for work seminars and job search.

They actually did the same seminar every time we went in, telling us how they could help. I could probably recite it."

Work and Income head Debbie Power says the agency runs about 20 different work seminars, but there is no doubt they have become the mainstay of the "one-to-many" case management approach that has predominated until the revival of intensive one-to-one case managers for some beneficiaries this week.

They are intended first to be motivational - keeping beneficiaries' connections to the working world so they don't become isolated and depressed.

They teach some useful skills such as writing CVs.

"They are actually quite helpful, I learned some new information and some new skills," says Philomena O'Donnell, 55, who has been on a sole parent benefit on and off since the late 1980s.

But they are also the primary mechanism of forcing beneficiaries to look for work. The penalties for not attending are three successive cuts in the person's benefit, down to half the normal rate for parents and to no benefit at all for those without children.

"Even if you are five minutes late, you get cut off," says Te Maunga Grey.

His friend Paula Keating, 24, says: "One time I missed a seminar but I gave them a reason, they still cut my benefit off. I didn't get paid, and because it was my third recompliance I had a 13-week stand-down. I had to depend on whanau."

Samara Tuwhangai, 19, has been to three work seminars and was on a stand-down this month because she missed three more in order to attend training for a possible job selling insurance. She says Work and Income is racist.

"When you go into Winz they look at you and your colour," she says. "If you go to white people they will give you a stink attitude compared to the other workers."

When she went in to complain about her benefit being stopped, the staff member wanted her to get a form signed by the insurance company, and refused to read a letter from the company which she says confirmed that she attended the training.

"She basically pissed me off, just because of her attitude to me in that meeting and how she was not reading my letters," she says. "So I got angry with her, so I'm not going to bring the letter back."

- NZ Herald

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