Whenever I end up yelling at people and chained to something there’s always someone who asks me why I bother. When Auckland Action Against Poverty highlight an issue about the rights of beneficiaries we too are asked why we bother and on occasion suffer some severe talkback backlash. This week as Manpower encountered people power and I was led handcuffed to a paddy wagon no one raised an eye brow, let alone an objection. That is simply because Manpower’s actions are indefensible.
As the matter is now ‘before the courts’ I shall add little commentary to what happened on the day, nor will I talk about the other members of the ‘Manpower 8’ except to say they are a great and reliable crew of people who I am proud to be arrested with. There were a far larger group involved who did not get arrested and every person involved played an integral part. That includes everyone who ran the picket outside and whose chants we could hear on the ninth floor. All of us involved in the Manpowered story so far are just extras.
This is the story of someone seeking work and sent by Work and Income to Manpower. The hero of the story was and still is “Tony” who came to AAAP with his complaints and concerns. That takes courage. The villain of the piece is not who you might suspect, it is not Manpower. They are just parasitic middlemen pimping poverty. The real villain is Work and Income.
Manpower are not a recruitment company. Recruitment companies work legally, they advise on your CV, they interview you about your skills, strengths, experience and then they match-make you with an employer who they charge for a service. Recruitment companies broker a relationship with employers and facilitate people into work. They don’t ask who you are sleeping with, voting for or which religion you practice. Manpower is a labour hire company. A bad labour hire company that is using an illegal contract that does not specify where you will work, for how long, what you will be doing and how much you will be paid. Manpower are signing you up to be on permanent standby for nothing guaranteed. They are also questioning applicants about a range of sensitive private issues. We still don’t know what they are doing with the data. I believe this is the reason we didn’t suffer the media backlash we often attract. This is story about a middle man scam.
Labour hire companies in New Zealand are unregulated. Not all of them are bad but as is often the way with any unregulated industry it will attract some dodgy characters and at Manpower they’re all dressed like clowns and cowboys. What isn’t so commonly known is the Work and Income practice of pushing people into work with companies like Manpower. On Thursday we closed down Manpower and with the help of News Hub exposed how Work and Income are getting people off benefits and onto Manpower’s books. When there is no work forthcoming and people have to return to Work and Income they face a thirteen week stand down. On Friday media reported that unemployment was at its lowest since 2008.
The public are not stupid. We at AAAP and First Union know that the stats stink. Unemployment is not a measure of under-employment. Daily we work with people who are underemployed, scrapping for extra hours and desperately in need of a top up from Work and Income. People are hanging on by a thread and an extra hour. When a person on a benefit is sent to Manpower for a job it is like evicting a family from a secure house and giving them a tent in cyclone season. When the work dries up they are left drowning in debt and hoping for rescue sometime in the next thirteen weeks. Desperate people, with no security will put up with a lot of shit and do a lot of unpaid overtime in order to keep their head above water.
Work and Income putting vulnerable people into this kind of work is negligent. It shows that they have no respect or empathy for the people whom they are charged with assisting. It illustrates that they have absolutely no concern for what happens when the people walk out the revolving door as long as the stats say they have placed someone in work. It is cruel and callous. Manpower might be cancelling work without notice, but it is Work and Income that are cancelling people’s faith, undermining their confidence and putting them at risk by cancelling their income.
The labour hire industry needs to be regulated. That is evident. It is not just beneficiaries but also students, migrants and other workers looking for decent and dependable income that are being exploited and mined for deeply personal information. It is the government’s responsibility to do this and it is the government’s responsibility also to ensure that Work and Income stop participating in this farce.