6 Sep 2016

Time for honest talk about barriers to work - Woodhouse

9:45 pm on 6 September 2016

The Immigration Minister has defended efforts to get New Zealand job seekers into the regions, saying the government needs to look at why they are not taking up available work.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little told Morning Report today the government should make getting young New Zealanders into work a priority, and reduce the number of work visas issued for labouring jobs.

Prime Minister John Key has admitted high immigration is putting a strain on the country's infrastructure, but said the government would continue to bring in large numbers to fill jobs given the difficulties of getting beneficiaries into seasonal work. Orchardists and grape growers have backed up Mr Key's comments.

Mr Little said Labour was happy with the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, which applied to people from the Pacific, and Labour would not be looking to restrict those numbers.

But he said the government should reduce the number of work visas being issued.

"There is no justification when we have 15,600 labourers unemployed in New Zealand, taking the dole, and we are issuing work visas for 6500 people to do labouring work, that doesn't make sense to me," he said.

"The reality is the seasonal employers want a workforce ready to go - because they've got a short period of work ahead of them - and we've got to make sure that work gets done. That's why the last Labour government introduced the [Recognised] Seasonal Employer scheme to get overseas workers here.

"But we've got to make a priority of the young people who live here in New Zealand, to get their work habits right, so they've got a meaningful work life ahead of them.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said employers worked very hard to get New Zealand workers to the regions, but they were simply not ready, willing or able to do the jobs.

22082016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Caucas run. Michael Woodhouse

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said it was time for an honest conversation about job seekers and certain regional jobs. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

He said the government would have to look at why that was the case and have an honest conversation with the public and the job seekers about why they were not taking up the work.

Mr Woodhouse said the Labour Party leader should go out to the regions and talk to employers.

He said the feedback the government got was that New Zealand job seekers just did not turn up, and that drugs were also a problem.

"The anecdotes are that when Work and Income require people be free of drugs and alcohol, particularly for occupations where that is considerable risk, often many of our young fail those tests."

Mr Woodhouse said the government was redoubling its efforts to make sure New Zealanders were at the front of the queue for jobs.

Treatment of young workers is the key - Little

Mr Little said many employers already worked hard to get young people, often with troubled backgrounds, into good, secure, long term work.

"They go round and pick young workers up from their homes at 6.30 in the morning because they know that if they didn't do that the car that they used yesterday probably doesn't start, probably doesn't have a warrant of fitness, they may not have made their lunch because they don't know how - all these sorts of things."

But others treated minimum wage workers "shabbily".

"For every situation where a young worker hasn't turned up on time, done something the employer doesn't like, there are dozens of cases where there are young workers trying to get a foothold in the labour market who've been paid poorly, treated poorly, haven't had good conditions."

Domestic fruit-picking scheme still a success - MSD

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Development has defended its fruit-picking work scheme, despite the fact that only half of those who join it complete their contract or remain in work.

The scheme, launched about a year ago, encourages beneficiaries to move to the main growing regions such as Nelson, Marlborough and Hawke's Bay.

The ministry's national commissioner, Penny Rounthwaite, said the scheme complemented the RSE scheme, which attracts about 9500 workers each year from the Pacific Islands.

She said, since the scheme began last October, 300 people had moved for employment for up to six weeks.

Ms Rounthwaite said about half of them were still in employment or had successfully completed their contract.

The scheme had been a success but the ministry would look at ways of getting more people to complete it, she said.

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