Controversial Warehouse Work-Experience Programme Expands

The Ministry for Social Development (MOD) announced the expansion of the ‘Red Shirts in Community Programme’ that will now provide work experience opportunities to almost 1,000 16-24 year olds.

The programme hit the headlines recently due to the absence of pay throughout the entirety of the three week work experience period with Ministry for Social Development (MSD) partner, the Warehouse.

Northland, Whanganui and Wellington were the pilot cities for the programme, with 20 young jobseekers involved, before its first expansion earlier this year. Almost 250 participants have been through the programme since it began.

The programme is designed to support young jobseekers who have an interest in customer service roles, and boasts a 70 percent rate of employment within 91 days of the end of the programme.

According to Minister for Social Development Anne Tolley, the programme has been so successful that the “MSD and the Warehouse are now working together to develop a similar model for other large New Zealand employers so they can provide tailored programmes to help a range of jobseekers.”

Professor Paul Roth of the University of Otago Faculty of Law explained that the scheme is legal because “the young people involved would be classified as ‘volunteers’ and not employees or contractors. If they were uni students, they would be called ‘interns’. The programme lasts only 3 weeks. If the work was repeatedly rolled over, then it would look a bit dodgy, but still probably legal. But as it stands, the programme looks fine.”

Despite the clear legality of the scheme, welfare group Auckland Action Against Poverty opposes it, seeing it as preparation for a lifetime of insecure, exploitative and low-paid work for New Zealand’s youth. 

Spokesperson Vanessa Cole explained that this “programme is about exploiting unemployed youth, not teaching them skills. The government are subsidising the Warehouse in the name of reducing benefit dependency.”

“The work-focussed policies of Work and Income are forcing people into a poverty trap between low benefit rates and precarious work.”

Tolley said she would “like to thank the Warehouse for taking on a leadership role to help young Kiwis get a foot on the job ladder. This is one of the largest employer-led youth employment programmes in New Zealand, and we’d like to see other businesses take up similar initiatives.”

This article first appeared in Issue 16, 2017.
Posted 11:04am Sunday 23rd July 2017 by Joe Higham.