December-January issue of the Spark online


In what came as a surprise to John Key and probably no one else, New Zealand’s unemployment rate has hit a 13 year high; 7.3%. Concurrently the underemployed who work part-time but want to work more hours rose to 113,300 from 109,500. The same day the new unemployment rate was announced Christchurch based manufacturer Dynamic Controls announced it would be closing its contract manufacturing business with the loss of between forty and sixty jobs.

In was at Dynamic Controls where some of the technology hailed as examples of New Zealand entrepreneurialism- such as devices made by Humanware and Navman- were built by workers whose names will never be as well-known as the brands. That is over course, until cheaper overseas manufacturers were found.

It was also the place I got my first manufacturing job, at nineteen years old in 2005, a time when getting a job seemed as easy as owning a pair of steel capped boots. Of course this was no economic golden age, getting a job required registering with a temp agency and taking an ‘assignment’ with no job security and typically low pay.

While at that time the factory was taking on a huge number of staff (the temp agencies offered incentives for recruiting our friends, and I helped two co-workers from my previous job get work there) the company was preparing to move the manufacturing of their own product to their new factory in China, keeping the Christchurch plant for mostly contract manufacturing. A few months later I was gone, along with a number of other temps, and in the years since many permanent workers have been made redundant as well.

Other electronics manufacturers have also shed staff, meaning those in the pool of redundant workers with years of experience are competing for the few manufacturing jobs left. Today, there is no easy way in for a 19 year old, even with their own steel cap boots. This is part of the reason youth unemployment is over five points higher than the national average; at 13.4%.

As the government attacks the unemployed the young will become a demonised group, castigated for not trying hard enough to get a job, not spending enough time in education, not looking the part at job interviews or just plain being lazy. The reality is the young are just another group that capitalism has thrown on the scrap heap.

Spark December 2012

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