8 Aug 2018

Ditching youth rates on the back burner for govt

8:19 am on 8 August 2018

Labour's pre-election policy of ditching youth rates within its first year in power appears to be on the back burner for now as it negotiates with its coalition partner New Zealand First.

Barista preparing a cappuccino

file photo Photo: 123RF

But that's news to the Green Party which wants the lower rates gone.

Youth rates - otherwise known as the Starting Out Wage - are set at 80 percent of the minimum wage and are currently $13.20 an hour.

They apply to 16 and 17-year-olds who have been with their current employer for less than six months or 18 and 19-year-olds who have been on a benefit for more than six months.

Labour campaigned on abolishing the lower wages, which were re-introduced in 2013 after being abolished in 2008, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is less than committal about that now.

"Everything that we do as a Government is negotiated, everything that we've set down from our coalition agreements, our confidence and supply agreements and the speech from the throne - anything beyond that any individual party policy is negotiated collectively.

"We already have in place a system a shortened system where someone has a lower rate and that phases out over time and everyone is on minimum wage."

The New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, said pre-election policies were irrelevant as there was now a coalition agreement.

"That is our policy, detailed as it is, if you don't find it there then it won't be part of any committment."

Youth rates are not mentioned in the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement.

Mr Peters was asked what New Zealand First's position was on keeping or canning youth rates.

"I'm part of a coalition government and what we should be responding to is the policy that we are going to implement, not the one that we would like to implement."

When asked by RNZ, the Green Party co-leader, Marama Davidson, was under the impression that youth rates were going.

"We're glad to see that they [are] being phased out.

"That's all we know so far that they will be phased out, but certainly the Greens are very clear we've always thought that youth rates are an abuse of workers."

Asked whether she knew whether New Zealand First was trying to keep youth rates in place, Ms Davidson did not know.

"We haven't seen anything yet, but we'll just keep pushing for the fairest result, which is that there shouldn't be youth rates."

National's leader, Simon Bridges, said he hoped New Zealand First was putting pressure on Labour to back off dumping youth rates.

There was a place for youth rates in the workplace, he said.

"It is a way that you can differentiate and make sure that people who wouldn't necessarily have got the chance, get the chance.

"You only get a payrise from having a job in the first place, and the truth is look a 17-year-old young man is in a very different position say from someone with a lot of experience who's 50."

A spokesperson for the Minister for Workplace Relations Minister said he would be taking a paper to Cabinet by the end of October with any changes to youth rates after talks with government partners.

Unite Union urges promised action

Unite Union national secretary Gerard Hehir told Morning report there should be no reason for New Zealand First to prevent youth rates being abolished.

"The concern is for us that some of the most vulnerable and exploited workers, young workers, are going to get shafted again," Mr Hehir said.

"Youth unemployment is higher than normal unemployment, it always has been and probably will be for a long time, but it's related to the economic conditions."

He said it was unfair that teenagers working alongside adults, doing the same job or some even training newcomers, were paid $2 or $3 an hour less.

"We talking about equal pay, we talk about fairness, we talk about exploitation - you're doing the same work, you should get the same wage," he said.

"That's what it comes down to, cheap labour."

The government should realise that keeping youth rates was not the way of the future for a sustainable economy, he said.

"We've got to stop trying to base our economy on exploiting migrant labour and cheap labour, it doesn't work," Mr Hehir said.

"We should start making policy on research not on what people might think happen or what the employers or manufacturer's association says."

"Capitalism has failed young workers and keeping them on keeping them on lower wages isn't going to help them."

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