8 Aug 2018

How unemployed people are treated at Work and Income

From Afternoons, 1:30 pm on 8 August 2018

Twitter user Emmes, shocked at the attitude of staff and lack of help offered, shared her bad experiences of the Work and Income offices and has received a flood of responses both good and bad. 

Work and Income offices

Work and Income offices Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

She went in to visit two different Work and Income branches, first simply to observe how workers at the office dealt with clients.

Friends and followers shared similar stories of what Emmes tells Afternoons’ Jesse Mulligan is not a pleasant experience. 

“You walk in, you’ve got security in the car park, security on the front door, the middle door and then one before the receptionist,” she says.  

“Then you get greeted by a receptionist who yells out your client number and then makes you feel like ‘what are you doing here?’

“There was no empathy in the way they spoke to anybody and there was no empowerment either. 

“You automatically felt like you didn’t belong there no matter who you were.” 

She says she went back, to a different branch, to see if she would be treated any differently as a client, but it was no different. 

“That’s all I felt going in both times was ‘why are you here?’” 

She says she understands why the security is in place, but it’s about attitude. 

“It doesn’t cost to be kind, it doesn’t cost to say ‘hey, how are you today?’, or ‘how can I help you?’, without the attitude. 

“When you go into the MSD website they say ‘people are the centre of our business’. I didn’t feel that on … any of the visits that I went.”

Emmes says there’s also an assumption that people are computer literate, when that’s not always the case. 

“That’s a big tick, they have free computers, but then what. Are you teaching people how to log in?

“Because the assumption is there, people just kind of walk away thinking ‘okay, you kind of just took an hour out of my day just to give me a book’.

“I sat in a group of people who were all different, different experiences, and some didn’t know how to log in, so I assisted because that’s what WINZ is supposed to do.” 

She says it has an effect on people. 

“For most people, they were accepting of how they were treated," she says. 

“It looked like the walking dead, people were just there, they were there because they need assistance, there because it’s the end of the road. 

“My observation, WINZ knows that they need them, so ‘you’re going to get treated how you’re going to get treated and you’re going to accept it, because you need us’.

“We’re all human, we all have feelings and some of us don’t want to go there, but that’s our only option at that point in time in our lives.” 

She says she’s received messages from MSD workers since sharing her story, and there has been response from some people who have been treated well. 

“I just want to make it clear I’m not saying all branches are like that, it’s just my experience in the two times I went I needed to voice my opinions on. 

“I did have a lot of people from WINZ themselves message me confidential saying ‘look there’s a lot of pressure on us, for you to speak out against us like that hurts my feelings’ and I’m just like ‘I can’t sit here and pretend I didn’t see what I saw on the two visits that I went.” 

She says she was impressed by the statement of intent for 2017-2022 on the website, but there is more needed. 

“It’s good to have something online that we can go and read and be confident about  ‘oh yeah they’re going to give us public services, they’re going to give us employment support training, work preparation, work ready,’ then why didn’t I get it when I walked in the office. This was signed last year.” 

There are some possible solutions, she says. 

“The best thing is to have someone in there to check on people while they’re in the waiting area and say ‘hey, do you need any help to log on to the computer?’

“Just more human-to-human interaction, like ‘how are you feeling today? What are you here for? how can I help you?', because remember the reception sets the tone. 

“Just to have someone in there to take them through how to write a CV. 

“Not all people can commit to a year or a few days workshop, a couple of hours you know - teach them how to log on, how to go on to word, how to create it, what’s expected. 

“Just empower people to want to look for work, they’re not asking for more money, they are asking for help.”