Refusing offers of suitable work

Part of the most recent round of welfare reforms included increasing penalties for not taking up suitable work that is offered. I see the reasoning behind this, but what WINZ considers ‘suitable’ work needs some serious looking in to.

What is deemed ‘suitable’ can be anything but. Sure, it might be something that it is within the realms of possibility, but sometimes it is in a location not accessible without a car (which many beneficiaries do not own) or is at a time which isn’t possible (beneficiaries do have the right to other commitments) or it might be a job which requires physical capabilities that the beneficiary simply does not have.

All these things should mean that the work is just deemed unsuitable and the job search goes on. But that’s all up to the whims of the case manager, who may be a lovely person, or may be jaded and cynical and condemn you as a lazy so-and-so who’s just trying to get out of work.It’s such a subjective judgement, and even if there are criteria in place for these things to be judged against, it still all depends on the attitude of the one doing the applying of said criteria. “I’m looking after my sister’s kids so she can go to work’ can be a reason why you can’t work out-of-school hours, or it can be just an excuse, depending on the eyes you’re looking through.

There is also a problem with the definition of ‘suitable work’. A laid-off engineer is best serving himself and the people around him if he looks for engineering and related jobs, but there’s a good chance that the work coming up on the WINZ radar is hopeless, dead-end jobs like supermarket work or unskilled factory work. Forcing people with strong skill sets into crap jobs isn’t helping them much. Maybe the you’re best positioned to get a better job if you already have a job, but when the job you have doesn’t allow time off for interviews, as some (quite illegally, I believe) don’t, then you’re stuck in a dead end that you can’t quit without lining up for a thirteen-week benefit stand down as a reward for leaving employment ‘voluntarily’.

I don’t know what the answer to this is. There’s no way to make people see beneficiaries through sympathetic eyes, even if it’s their job to. But it’s not WINZ employees’ job to be sympathetic. Their task is to get as many people as possible off the dole as fast as possible. This just isn’t compatible with treating beneficiaries humanely. The few that are merciful are not working within their job descriptions. Sure, the department may say that they’re there to help people, but the words that echo throughout their documentation are ‘work-focused’. Not people-focused.

So things look bad for beneficiaries in regard to their work obligations. They can only hope for a nice case manager and a good job offer to come up quickly

4 thoughts on “Refusing offers of suitable work

  1. cmdelislefm

    How many cases to a case manager? I imagine the greater the number the easier it is to fall back on stereotypes and the harder it is to empathise with each individual?

    1. Wombat Post author

      I haven’t come across that information in my travels through the Ministry archives, and the only information I can find suggests that as of December 1998 there were 300-350 cases per case manager ( That’s a hell of a lot of people to deal with, and I can imagine that you would get jaded pretty easily.

      1. cmdelislefm

        And I guess the follow up question to that is, what kind of people do they employ? One of the things that has struck me with the charities being interviewed by Humans of New York recently was the man who had gone through the charity being profiled and was now working for it.
        I don’t get the impression that WINZ makes any effort to employ people with specific experience of unemployment or who are specifically trained in social work?

        1. Wombat Post author

          I’ve just had a dig around, and I can’t find anything about what qualifications or experience they want from their staff. Their social workers will likely need social work qualifications, but their case managers? They seem to need to be ‘passionate about helping people’, whatever that means, and that’s all I can find. They’re pretty cagey about what you need to be in order to be a case manager.
          I would suspect that as long as your CV is ‘good’ – you have some form of qualification or professional experience – and you can talk up your enthusiasm for ‘helping people’ you’re probably likely to be eligible for work there.
          I’m with you – I don’t get the impression that WINZ go out of their way to employ people with special qualifications or compassion for the unemployed.


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