22 Aug 2014

Parties argue for minimum wage rise

9:40 am on 22 August 2014

The minimum wage must be raised to address growing social inequality between Maori and Pasfika communities and Pakeha, the Green and Maori parties say.

A new study by Victoria University shows the inequality gap between Maori and Pasifika, and Pakeha has widened on a number of measures over the past 10 years, including obesity and unemployment.

While Maori and Pasifika are inching closer to Pakeha on increasing life expectancy, early childhood education and lowering infant death rates, Pakeha are still doing much better when it comes to rates of obesity and suicide, and on indicators such as internet access and reducing benefit dependency.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo: RNZ

In the decade the study covers unemployment has increased for all groups, but it is worse for Maori and Pasifika.

In addition to raising the minimum wage, the Maori Party wants to double the number of Maori and Pasifika trade training placements per year to 6000 if it gets back into Government and secure $2.5 million a year for 250 cadetships for unemployed Maori.

Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell wants more targeted resources going to the right places, which he said would involve a greater audit of some agencies and their delivery to Maori and Pasifika community.

The Green Party will be releasing its full policy on wages shortly, but its co-leader Metiria Turei said the party supports raising the minimum wage and encouraging companies to offer staff a living wage.

"Right now a whanau who works two jobs full time, on low pay, still can't make sure that their kids have got food in their bellies and the power bill is paid, and the rent is paid and that is not good enough in a country like ours."

Metiria Turei.

Metiria Turei. Photo: RNZ

Metiria Turei said the Greens have put reducing inequality at the top of the party's agenda and others need to follow suit.

The report shows that Maori are still twice as likely to smoke than Pakeha, and while Maori smoking rates have dropped in recent years, Pakeha are giving up cigarettes at a faster rate.

Prime Minister John Key says his government is due some of the credit for the decline in smoking across all ethinic groups.

"As I think you have to give credit to the Maori Party and particularly run by Tariana Turia that we've done a lot when it come to smoking and that's every from and a substantial increase in excise right through to point of sale changes."

The study's lead researcher, Lisa Marriot, says despite a lot of attention being given to the issue, the strategy to address inequality is not working.

"The majority of the indicators that we looked at found that the gaps were increasing. We were fairly surprised by that finding because the 2003 study, which is what we started from, tended to show either improving results or things were staying more or less the same."

Dr Marriot said the growing gap will need to be given more serious consideration by the next government.