Critics slam work incentive

ASHLEIGH STEWART
Last updated 05:00 07/05/2014
Zaedyn Pewhairangi-Kremm
Fairfax NZ

FITS THE BILL: Recently qualified plasterer Zaedyn Pewhairangi-Kremm, 20, of Wellington, is an ideal candidate for the Government's just-announced scheme offering beneficiaries $3000 to move to Christchurch to help with the rebuild.

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A $3.5 million incentive for beneficiaries to relocate to Christchurch has met a backlash from housing providers, who say the city's market will not cope.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced a one-off $3000 lump-sum payment would be made to beneficiaries interested in moving to Canterbury with a confirmed job offer.

The "$3K to Christchurch" scheme would for now be available to 1000 beneficiaries, particularly to those aged 18 to 24.

Housing providers condemned the idea, saying there was nowhere for the workers to go, while companies involved in the city's rebuild said professional workers were needed, not unskilled labourers.

Harcourts Accommodation Centre owner Patricia Bowden said the influx could push soaring rents even higher, and short-term accommodation was already "extremely difficult" to find.

Young renters and vulnerable people were already struggling to find accommodation.

"If we get a whole lot of these unskilled workers coming in, what's the guarantee of them being able to pay their rent in three months' time?"

Engineers flocking to the city on two or three-year contracts, coupled with more people moving out for renovations or rebuilds, had already put more pressure on the market, she said.

"They're coming in and we're scratching to find them places - where are we going to put another thousand? Maybe Hagley Park might put up some tents?"

Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi said the scheme was "not thought out very well". She hoped the Government had consulted housing providers beforehand, but it had come as a complete surprise to her.

"If the employer of those young people were in a position to offer them accommodation for the three months, that would be terrific. However, that is not going to happen because they don't have the housing to do it."

Key said the Government recognised the shortage of accommodation in Christchurch, but said there was a range of solutions to alleviate it.

The housing accord last month signed with the Christchurch City Council would boost the supply of temporary, affordable and social housing, he said, and the Land Use Recovery Plan had freed up more land for development and higher-density housing.

Large employers would provide short-term accommodation for workers, or they could stay with friends or relatives, Key said.

Falcon Construction founder David Reid said while it was a good idea to get "young people off benefits and into a trade", the Christchurch construction industry was struggling to attract professionals.

"This is because we are still not yet at a point of the rebuild where we have reached capacity at the coalface; currently I can still get enough local trades onto our sites," he said.

Leighs Construction founder Anthony Leighs said his company would welcome the workers, but agreed the real need was for professionals.

"We have struggled to attract skilled and experienced people, that's where the real need is," he said.

"But there is still a large level of work to be done in the next two or three years, and we need people to participate in that." He said he would consider providing accommodation assistance, and training to aid the new workers.

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Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend hailed the scheme as a "great thing" for Christchurch.

"It's more than just the money - it brings people into the city," he said. "The work is increasing every day . . . the unemployment figures demonstrate that."

The target age group were those with "very good chances of employment".

FIT, READY AND WILLING TO WORK

He's fit, he's young and he wants to work - all of which make him a candidate for the Government's scheme offering beneficiaries $3000 to move to Christchurch to work on the rebuild.

With no kids, home or responsibilities keeping him in Wellington, recently qualified plasterer Zaedyn Pewhairangi- Kremm, 20, is trying to get off the unemployment benefit. As a motivated jobseeker, he said he would seriously consider taking one of the 1000 spots on the scheme, knowing there would be plenty of work and the chance to gain skills quickly in his chosen trade.

"It's a big world and there's a lot to explore. I might have to hit my work broker up," he said.

Although some beneficiaries would be put off by the prospect of moving to a flood-prone city with a broken infrastructure, he said many in his age group - which the Government is targeting with the scheme - would jump at the opportunity, especially those who had done trade apprenticeships.

Family ties won't hold him back. "None of my family are going to be moving anywhere far, so I can always come back for visits."

Applicants must have a fulltime job offer and stay in Canterbury for at least three months.

- The Press

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