Unemployment to get worse before it improves -Govt

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Image: RNZ.

The government is saying that unemployment in New Zealand will rise before it improves because of COVID-19.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni made the statement as part of an update with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the Cabinet meeting this morning.

Jacinda says alert level three represents the move towards getting the economy moving again and to getting more New Zealanders back to work and to opening more businesses.

She says under alert level three another 400,000 workers are going back to work so there are now around one million kiwis working.

“At alert kevel three around 75 per cent of the economy is operating with key sectors like building and construction, forestry, manufacturing and contactless retail starting back up.”

Lockdown has displaced many workers and there is a real need for jobs in the community, Jacinda says.

Carmel announced new measures that the Ministry of Social Development will deliver to help ensure as many New Zealanders as possible are in work or preparing for work

The measures include:

  •   •  A Keep New Zealand Working online recruitment tool that connects job seekers directly to the employer. The tool, that is now live, also provides online training courses.

  •   •  Opening 35 new employment centres across the country working with employers and job seekers under level three, over the phone and online. Under level two face to face engagement with clients, employers and providers will begin.

  •   •  A Keep New Zealand Working employment service for those directly impacted by Covid-19 who are not on a main benefit.

  •   •  A Keep New Zealand Working fast-tracking service for those benefit applicants who need to re-engage quickly with the job market.

  •   •  Working in partnership with industry to provide ‘quick upskilling solutions’, for example the new free online Community Health course with NZQA Unit Standards.

Carmel says that MSD have already been ramping up employment efforts as part of the Welfare Overhaul.

“Last year we budgeted for 263 more MSD work-focused case managers, and invested significantly in programmes that support both employment and upskilling, and training like mana in mahi.

“Before New Zealanders went into alert level four, the government worked quickly to stand up Rapid Response Teams from MSD across the country to work in regions immediately affected like Tairāwhiti. MSD has continued to place people into work under Alert Level 4 – by phone – including redeploying people to essential services.”

Ninety per cent of the weekly increase in main benefits has been for Jobseeker Support with 7694 more people coming onto a benefit – 6,91 for Jobseeker Support.

“The increase in benefit numbers was expected. It’s a global phenomenon. Countries that we compare ourselves to like the US, UK and Australia are experiencing dramatic increases in unemployment during Covid-19. We are not alone,” says Carmel.

Jacinda reiterated that under alert level three New Zealand is not out of the woods with COVID-19.

"As [University of Auckland microbiologist] Siouxsie Wiles said today, there are still some smouldering ashes out there and it has the potential to become a wildfire again if we give them the chance."

At alert level three the country is in a recovery room of sorts to asses if the incredible work done by New Zealanders during lockdown has worked, she says.

With more people going back to work the country needs to be even more vigilant to stop the spread of the virus, Jacinda says.

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