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Correspondence with the Minister of Justice



6 April 1998


The Hon D Graham MP
Minister of Justice
House of Representatives
Parliament Buildings
WELLINGTON.


Dear Minister,

Since the New Zealand First Party announced - prior to the last general election - a policy of requiring the unemployed to work in order to qualify for an unemployment benefit, the Centre has been concerned about the lack of psychological development in those individual human beings who appear unable to understand the principle of the universal applicability of the equality of human life in terms of its manifestation in labour.

It is the view of the Centre that there are those in positions of power - be they in politics, business or the media - in New Zealand today who lack the psychological development to understand matters of high principle and who live in their own psychological environment of concrete, literal, pragmatism.

It is also the view of the Centre that this method of operation is inherent in the New Zealand psyche.

In view of your public statements that " . . . the Maori have rights under international law which must be upheld", and the imminent introduction of legislation requiring the unemployed to work in order to qualify for an unemployment benefit, the Centre would be grateful if you would advise it of the interpretation of the New Zealand Government of the rights of the unemployed under international law.

As you will be aware there are a number of international conventions, mainly those of the International Labour Organisation, which constitute international law in this area.

As you will also be aware the New Zealand Government is claiming that the Committee of Experts of the ILO have stated that " . . . working for the dole is not forced labour." This claim is made on p28 of the New Zealand Department of Labour's 1993 publication "International Labour Conventions Ratified by New Zealand"

As this claim appeared contrary to the principle of psychological verisimilitude, the Centre sought verification from the ILO and was faxed copies of Direct Requests from the Committee of Experts to the Government of Chile requesting that that country repeal its "work for the dole" legislation as it contravened Article Two of Convention No 29, the Forced Labour Convention 1930.

You will no doubt be familiar with this Article which states that:

". . . forced or compulsory labour shall mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily"

You will no doubt also be familiar with the exclusions to this article, none of which the Committee of Experts have held to be valid in the case of Chile.

The Centre is also disturbed by the position of the Deputy Prime Minister the Rt Hon W Peters MP, who has stated publicly that the unemployed will be required to work in, for example, rest homes.

The majority of rest homes in this country are privately owned and Article Four of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930, expressly prohibits the use of forced or compulsory labour:

" . . . for the benefit of private individuals, companies or associations."

(The Centre is currently gravely disturbed by reports it has received of the unemployed in Dunedin being forced to work against their will for private clubs. On one occasion the club expected the unemployed person to supply a computer to enable the work to be carried out.)

There are of course other international agreements that cover the matter of the unemployed and forced labour, among them being Convention No 105, the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention 1957, Article One of which states:

"Each Member undertakes . . . not to make use of any form of forced or compulsory labour as a means of . . . education or . . . economic development."

It would appear that by claiming that "working for the dole" is designed to instil a work ethic, your government may be intending to use forced labour as education. Similarly, there can be little doubt in the minds of the people that forcing the unemployed to work in the interests of the economy is one of the purposes of your policy.

In previous correspondence on this matter with the then Prime Minister the Rt Hon J B Bolger MP, Mr Bolger claimed that only those persons who were voluntarily unemployed were to be covered by the legislation. In his letter Mr Bolger appeared to indicate that if an unemployed person did not have a "good and sufficient reason" for not taking up available employment, then that was a sufficient ground for applying other measures such as reduction of benefit or apparently being forced to "work for the dole."

Mr Bolger drew attention to Convention No 44, the Unemployment Provision Convention 1934, which he claimed gave authority for these actions.

It is the view of the Centre that Article Ten of that Convention states clearly that no unemployed person is required to accept work simply because the "competent authority" deems it to be suitable. On the contrary, the conditions which make work "suitable" are clearly laid out in that Article and no piece of New Zealand legislation can override them - which is what the then Prime Minister appears to have been intimating in his references to the "work test" provisions of the Social Security Act 1964.

It is unfortunate that the then Prime Minister failed to mention that fact that Article Nine of Convention No 44 makes provision for the unemployed to be engaged in " . . . relief works organised by a public authority." This type of work is very different from that apparently envisaged by the government, allowing as it does for only the cleaning up of beaches or the sides of roads and is therefore very different indeed from the kind of work that has been done under duress in the past and apparently will be done under duress in the future. The most obvious example of an apparent breach of international law in this matter was the forcing of the unemployed to work for private orchardists under penalty of either a reduction in, or total loss of, their benefits.

As Article Nine of C44 appears to contradict Article Two of C29, the Centre has sought clarification of the matter from the ILO. It has also drawn to the attention of the ILO the concerns of the Centre with respect to the unemployed being forced to work for private clubs in Dunedin and for private orchardists in other parts of the country. This work appears to have been a breach of Articles Two and Four of the Forced Labour Convention 1930.

The Centre is currently awaiting a reply on these matters.

In view of the concerns of the Centre as set out above, it would be very much appreciated if you would advise the Centre of the position of the New Zealand Government in respect of its intention to adhere to international law in the area of the rights of the unemployed.


Yours faithfully,



J M STEVENSON (Mr)

DIRECTOR






OFFICE OF THE

MINISTER OF JUSTICE



24 April 1998
Mr JM Stevenson
Centre for Psycho-sociological Development
7 McCurdy Street
DUNEDIN


Dear Mr Stevenson,

I refer to your letter of 6 April 1998 regarding work for the dole.

I have noted your concerns. Policy relating to employment matters falls within the portfolio of the Minister of Employment. Accordingly, I have referred a copy of your letter to the Minister for direct reply.


Yours sincerely,



Douglas Graham
Minister of Justice







6 May 1998


The Hon D Graham MP
Minister of Justice
House of Representatives
Parliament Buildings
WELLINGTON


Dear Minister,

Thank you for your letter of 24 April in which you advise the Centre that a request on the rights of the unemployed under international law, made to you as Minister of Justice, has been passed to the Minister of Employment for his reply.

With the greatest of respect Minister, that letter was specifically addressed to you in your capacity as Minister of Justice and dealt with your public statements on the rights of the Maori under international law.

Given your public statements on the Maori, the Centre sought from you Minister, in your capacity as Minister of Justice in a democratic society, your comments on the position of the New Zealand Government with regard to the rights of the unemployed under international law.

May the Centre ask you again Sir. What is the position of the New Zealand Government with regard to the rights of the unemployed under international law? Given that through you, the Government has upheld the rights of the Maori under international law, will it or will it not uphold the rights of the unemployed under the same circumstances?

The Centre would very much appreciate the views of the New Zealand Government in this matter.

Please find enclosed a copy of the Centre's letter.


Yours sincerely,



J M STEVENSON (Mr)

DIRECTOR



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