Jan Logie

Unemployment is a human rights issue

by Jan Logie

The 13,000 rise in unemployment reported in today’s Household Labourforce Survey brings the total number of unemployed New Zealanders to 175,000 – the worst number in 20 year.

That represents 7.3% of our population, including 15.6% of Pasifika people and 15.1% of Māori and we know it is also likely to be worse for young people, people with disabilities, sole parents of young children, and people with a refugee background. Namely, most groups that we recognise are likely to be victims of discrimination. We have a Human Rights Act to protect against this, but it really only works in times of job shortages and can do nothing to address the structural barriers to employment.

In the words of the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation of NZ “The Welfare reforms are framed on the premise that the unemployed are not trying hard enough to find jobs. The reality is regular redundancies and businesses closing, employers posting signs outside saying ‘sorry no jobs’. The reality is families struggling to pay the rent, to pay the power and to put food on the table.”

In times of high unemployment, focusing solely on the “job seeker” compounds the existing discrimination and heightens the sense of stigma already felt by those affected.

This Government clearly believes that the market will deliver, and it does seem to deliver for their mates, but we know that in times of high unemployment it does not deliver for the marginalised.

Further, we know the patterns of discrimination evident in employment are also reflected in the pay rates of those in paid employment. We see this clearly reflected by the fact that last year the median income from wages remained pretty much static while the average wage increased by 2.7%. This shows that some people, those on high incomes, who we also know are more likely to be pakeha, privileged, males without any impairments, have not been impacted by the recession.

This is now likely to be further compounded as the ability of vulnerable workers to negotiate better conditions is further compromised by pending labour law changes and high unemployment. It’s hard to ask for a pay rise when you’re told there’s a long line of people who would be happy to replace you.

New Zealand was one of the founding members of the United Nations (UN) and played a significant part in drawing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Frank Corner, former New Zealand Secretary of Foreign Affairs, described New Zealand’s participation at the San Francisco conference as having “an impact that helped to change the course of history”. The UDHR guarantees everyone the right to “social security…and the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality”. Specifically, it notes that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Having a human rights lens on unemployment allows us to accurately assess the true impact of the current financial mismanagement by the National Government. It is felt most harshly by those who have the least to begin with, and are the most discriminated against.

Published in Economy, Work, & Welfare | Justice & Democracy by Jan Logie on Thu, November 8th, 2012   

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