An attempt to help young transgender sex workers find new jobs outside the sex industry has been hit by the axing of a Government job scheme.

Five young sex workers aged 18 to 24 were employed by the Mangere East Family Service Centre in November under Work and Income's Community Max scheme, which paid non-profit groups the full costs of employing young people for 30 hours a week for six months at the minimum wage.

They ran a holiday programme and planned education programmes about transgender issues for schools.

They also applied for jobs outside the sex industry and changed their names by deed poll from the male names they were given at birth to the female names they now use.

The programme also aimed to get them drivers' licences in their current names so they could prove their identity, but they could not complete this within the six months.

Their jobs ended on May 21 when the six months expired. The $40 million scheme was axed in last month's Budget.

All have applied for new jobs and for welfare benefits, but none has yet either found a job or been granted a benefit.

Programme supervisor Mama Tere has been taking food to a Mangere family that has taken in two of them because they have no other means of support.

"It's an injustice," Mama Tere said. "For six months they [Work and Income] have had these people in the palm of their hand and all of a sudden they have been cut off. They should have been rolled over on to benefits."

Briannah Swift, 18, went into sex work when she had just turned 17, too young to get a benefit.

"When I left school I went on several courses and from there I went to the streets," she said.

She jumped at the chance to do the Community Max programme hoping that it would be a way into her ultimate aim of a retailing job.

"Coming on this programme was way better than being on the streets," she said.

Isles Posimani, 24, has worked as a hairdresser but found after two years that it was "more of a hobby for me" than a career. She went on a benefit and got into sex work "to get extra things that you don't receive from the benefit".

She now hopes to get into retailing or business administration.

"The course has given us opportunities and more hope for us girls to try and look for a job, but let's be honest it was more getting off the street," she said.

Rainbow Youth director Tom Hamilton, who changed his first name in 2001, said many employers were scared off employing people once they found out they were no longer using the names they were given at birth.

"You get to the point where you have to give your IRD number and suddenly your name comes back and it's different," he said.

He said the Mangere programme was unique in giving Pacific Island fa'afafine, fakaleiti and akava'ine (transgender in Samoan, Tongan and Cook Island Maori) the first steps into the job market.

CROSSING OVER
* 400 New Zealanders (0.01 per cent) show their gender as 'X' rather than male or female in their passports.
* 400 to 800 people belong to NZ transgender groups.
* 159 (6.9 per cent) out of 2307 NZ sex workers questioned in an Otago University survey in 2007 were transgender.