Workers being harassed and bullied in a multitude of ways; workers resisting and sometimes succumbing to a culture of theft endorsed and promoted by management. Women and children being left twisting in the breeze.
That would be a very brief run down of the mere basics contained in Radio New Zealand’s top story this morning around the dysfunction of Te Whare Pounamu Dunedin Women’s Refuge. I suspect this morning’s piece is only reporting the tip of an ice berg and that a lot more will be revealed over coming days.
And of course, there will be the usual racist cankers jumping up to point accusatory fingers at, to them, yet another predictable example of a Maori organisation coming up short. And directing their bile as though a Pakeha led organisation would never plumb similar depths.
It’s a wholly dishonest type of attack motivated by racist attitudes that ignore systemic contexts.
In New Zealand, organisations tasked with providing necessary social programmes are pitched against one another to secure the funding that allows them to provide services. Funding rounds are a sharp elbowed lolly scramble, and those who successfully stomp and bash their way to ‘the loot’ are the self same people expected to oversee and guide programmes and services bent to social good.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out the disconnect.
It’s a certain type of person who will survive a dog eat dog environment, and that type of person is generally speaking not going to be the most sensitive or sympathetic of souls. In fact, the people best suited to ensuring that their fellow citizens are somewhat protected from various social ills will tend to remain on the bottom rungs of the various organisations tasked by government with providing for society. Or, as is often the case, they’ll leave that line of work altogether.
Hearing that workers at Te Whare Pounamu are ‘put upon’ by management isn’t hearing anything new when it comes to workers within the broader social services sector.
Whether we’re looking at those involved in rehabilitation services, emergency housing services or any number of other services farmed out by government in line with liberal ideas of how things should be structured, there’s a constant refrain of low wages, less than optimum management, burn out and inadequate frameworks being in place that would facilitate the provision of whatever service or programme is in question.
Let me be clear.
None of the context I’m sign posting here is designed to act as a defence for Te Whare Pounamu’s management. As far as I’m concerned, the sound of rolling heads should be heard merrily plinking down the streets of Dunedin.
Once was, we lived in a society. And in a society, people pull together and cooperate with one another at various levels to ensure that vulnerable and fragile people are protected. But beginning with Thatcher’s proclamation of liberal dogma – that there is only individuals and families and no such thing as society – social democratic modes of governance have given way to liberal ones, such that, if once we lived in a society, we might be more accurately described these days as living in an economy. And as suggested above, an environment that embraces zero sum competition does nothing whatsoever to foster ideas of co-operation or empathy.
In the broad field of providing social needs, management are focused on ticking boxes that satisfy future funding criteria, and securing funding at the expense of other NGOs they’d be cooperating with – were it not for the incessant lolly scramble for government cash and funding, where loss of funding to a competing organisation can result in the unsuccessful organisation winding-up with the resultant loss of jobs and institutional knowledge.
Te Whare Pounamu is a symptom of a far greater systemic malaise that has been infecting New Zealand since the death knell of social democratic government in 1984. In short, when everything is subjected to market sensibilities then outcomes tend to anything but sensible. Te Whare Pounamu may be a particularly egregious example of that, but at the end of the day, it is just another example of that.