We would like to address some of the criticisms levied at the Government’s proposed social insurance scheme.
The scheme was developed by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU), Business New Zealand, and the Government, and includes input from many women who lead the trade union movement – us included.
The scheme could revolutionise support for workers by offering up to seven months’ income protection to those who are made redundant or have a health or disability condition that prevents them from working.
It would provide broad coverage for contractors, casual workers, and those in insecure work.
The CTU believes protecting workers from the impact of unexpected economic change is one of our fundamental duties as a society.
Yet protecting workers from a sudden loss in income is something we don’t do well in Aotearoa. We have no statutory redundancy, income protection, or notice periods.
The proposed scheme includes all these provisions and should be welcomed by anyone who cares about protecting vulnerable workers.
Contrary to some claims, this programme will best support those workers who are most likely to be made redundant. Official data shows these are women, young people, Māori, Pasifika, and workers on low incomes.
When unemployment rose during the first wave of the pandemic, women lost their jobs at a much higher rate than men. The number of unemployed women increased by 17,000 in the year to September 2020 and stayed higher than the rate for men for six months after that.
Under this proposal, women and other vulnerable workers would have had economic security, training opportunities, and wraparound support. That’s why we, as women at the heart of the trade union movement, back this proposal.
Job losses are always a tragedy. When they occur on a large scale, they are an economic disaster.
We saw this during the painful restructuring of the 1980s, and later during the global financial crisis. It’s likely to happen again in the future as industries, skills, and technologies change. The scheme offers protection against this eventuality by helping local economies regenerate and renew.
The proposal also protects workers who suffer job losses from health and disability conditions.
Workers who develop illnesses like cancer or arthritis, and those with pre-existing mental or physical health conditions, often receive little or no support from the existing welfare state.
The proposed scheme closes the gap and gives workers time to get well. It helps Kiwis get into work that’s right for them. It stops poverty upstream.
STRENGTHENED SAFETY NET
Despite what some say, the scheme doesn’t come at the expense of the welfare state – it boosts it.
Countries with social insurance schemes have more robust welfare systems, lower levels of inequality, and better standards of living for all residents. In Aotearoa, this scheme would add another layer of protection for workers, without impacting the existing welfare state.
The scheme is about making sure that when workers need help, they get it.
This is an abridged version of an article which originally appeared in Stuff.