All's fair in the brave new world of welfare

‘‘Corporate beneficiaries’’ should be subject to the same rules applied to their social counterparts, writes Ross Johnston.

Corporate welfare, n. financial assistance, as tax breaks or subsidies, given by the government especially to large companies.

It's time for consistency. In July 2013 the Government put in place more stringent controls over social beneficiaries living off the public purse: drug testing, training and controls on their overseas trips.

Now it's time to create a level playing field and apply the same strategies to those on corporate welfare. During the past decade Sky City, Solid Energy, Warner Brothers, Chorus and Rio Tinto have all benefited from the Government's largesse. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money are involved, so it seems only reasonable we ensure companies receiving welfare payments are monitored in an appropriate manner.

This strategy is in line with WINZ social beneficiary objectives as it aims to ''better recognise and support'' these companies' ''work potential'' and focuses on what they can do to ''achieve a better future'' for the company and its workers.

First there needs to be a drug-testing regime. We need to ensure directors are making sober decisions. Drug tests will be carried out before and after board meetings by a new agency C-WINZ (Corporate Work and Income New Zealand).

Directors refusing a drug test will have their fee suspended. Directors failing a drug test will have 25 days to ''get clean''. New directors will need to pass a pre-appointment drug test.

To ensure the continued sobriety of directors on corporate welfare a random drug testing system will also be employed. The GCSB are rumoured to be expanding their surveillance capacity and claim to be able to offer a service whereby they can collect regular urine samples and keep data stored in case they have cause to check it.

They are not prepared to reveal the actual collection mechanism involved but insiders claim it is accurate, identifies the individual involved and is Wi-Fi compatible. The GCSB claims to have fail-safe security mechanisms in place so the chance of data escaping their computer system is negligible - just as it is at the ACC.

Under these regulations the consent of the director would not be required for their urine file to be opened. A reasonable suspicion the director had been or intended to imbibe would be all that was required to gain a warrant. It would of course be a suspicion supported by evidence gained from phone conversations, emails, texts, Facebook, Twitter, credit card accounts, supermarket dockets and the spot checks carried out on their recycling bins - but sober directors have nothing to fear.

Second, as with social beneficiaries, director beneficiaries will need to inform C-WINZ if they intend to leave the country. As directors we expect them to be focused on the activities of the business and ensuring the best outcomes for the corporate welfare provided.

They shouldn't be diverted from this objective by the delights of overseas travel or indulging in a holiday while on welfare. If there is an approved reason for travel C-WINZ will make the bookings - economy class with no overnight accommodation to exceed three-star quality.

The third set of regulations will relate to upskilling. Directors will need to attend training courses if required, to ensure they are ''director work ready''. These courses will focus on how they can get the company off welfare by improving productivity. Directors will need to live for a fortnight on the wage paid to the lowest paid staff member.

This experience is designed to convince directors to implement a seven to one policy - ie the highest salary paid by the company will be no more than seven times higher than that of the lowest-paid worker. A cohesive well-rewarded workforce is a happier and more productive one.

Directors will enjoy some ''hands on'' work experience by being covertly introduced into the workforce during the course - a sort of ''Undercover Director'' programme. The understanding they gain of the practicalities of the business will serve them well.

Now, for some reason, there seems to be some resistance to these suggestions, but equity would seem to be the principle that needs to be observed. The detail of the regulations governing social and corporate beneficiaries may be slightly different but the same principle should apply.

If companies are receiving money from the public purse it is not unreasonable for there to be controls and responsibilities placed upon them until they can get back on their feet. They are, after all, ''on the benefit''.

-Ross Johnston is a resident and sometime writer of Purakaunui.


Quite right. As well, certain impositions on their right to 'breed'.

As a media man, I think you are aware the word 'upskilling' is not fair to Mr Skilling, formerly with NZFA.