& I @ WINZ: day 4

My charming trainee case manager at WINZ experiences some difficulty in explaining to me why I am eligible for an UB of no more than $36.21 per week. She tries to create a diversion by bringing up on her screen various conversion charts and highlighting irrelevant figures. Acknowledging her difficulty, she suggests that perhaps her trainer might be able better to explain my assessment, my predicament.

She crosses to the far side of the open office with my file and proceeds to go through it with the trainer, in sight but out of earshot. I get up and approach the happy little party, trainer and trainee, going through my personal information. Charlene spots me and meets me halfway across the office. She says the trainer will be joining us.

We return to her desk. She escorts me back to her desk. We wait. Smoking woman, the trainer, takes her time. She arrives and sits between Charlene and I on the upholstered chair Charlene has thoughtfully provided. There’s gravel in her lungs and she gives a small cough after each sentence but is pleasant enough, listens and does her best to direct me on how to extract enough money from WINZ to go on living. Which means, of course, the usual white lies.

Who are you? I ask.


I’d missed the name-tag with the ugly logo which it appears even trainers have to wear.

We agree, eventually, that I will provide more information and that WINZ will, for its part, neither confirm, nor deny, it can do anything to help me.

Sharon does, however, note down IRD’s number to chase up some family assistance tax credits that I might be owed. I ring the number, listen to IRD selling its online services, provided, presumably, to minimise the workload on its staff and displace it onto its clients (shifting, at the same time, any responsibility for error), and eventually reach Anna, at the call centre.

Anna immediately finds a problem: if I’m receiving a benefit, even of thirty-or-so dollars, the government will decrease the amount I’m eligible for, as a parent with two dependants, by double that amount, by sixty-or-so dollars. Get off the benefit, she says. It seems that WINZ has competition, since IRD want to give me more.

Anna apologises for swearing about the inadequacies of the system, saying it reflects on the quality of her service, that her manager will be upset. I tell her to inform her manager that I’m delighted to be talking with a person, since persons are rare events at call centres for IRD. She will look into my past files and ring me later.

It’s going to be scary, I say.

We can’t think like that, she answers. We just can’t.

Ring me later? I don’t hold up much hope for this. It’s four o’clock on a Friday afternoon. But ring she does. I love Anna, the only person who’s ever worked for IRD.

Tacere, painting by Dino Valls, 1992

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