This week, the government passed its Minimum Wage (Starting Out Wage) Amendment bill by one vote. The Bill was introduced late last year by Kate Wilkinson before she was sacked and has been taken up with enthusiasm by her replacement, the Hon Simon Bridges.
From 1 May, 16 and 17-year-old workers can be paid 80% of the adult minimum wage ($11.00 an hour) for six months. If they start a new job, they can start again on youth rates, regardless of previous job experience. 18 and 19-year-olds, who may have previously had jobs paying adult wages, can also be paid sub-minimum rates if they have been unfortunate enough to be on a social security benefit for six months, including the invalids benefit and sickness benefit.
Cutting workers’ rights and pay is classic National Party. They’ve already made it impossible for young workers to challenge any unfair treatment and dismissal in the first 90 days of employment, which was supposed to open up thousands of jobs. They have failed to address youth unemployment in any way, shape or form, which is a national scandal. And so, they’re resorting to their tried and failed policies of last century.
The bottom line is this : cutting workers pay does not create jobs. Employers take on workers when there is work to be done, not because they can pay them less. Full stop.
MoBIE openly admitted that it had very little way of telling whether this bill will meet its government’s claim that it will reduce youth unemployment. They came up with a “best guess” that it could create 400 to 1,100 net jobs. I’m wary of these numbers. Who can forget the 2011 Budget projection of 170,000 new jobs by 2015? Not much sign of that as unemployment continues to rise, more good jobs are lost, and our youth unemployment is up there with the worst in the OECD.
Other advice on the bill was worrying. Treasury suggested that paying sub-minimum wages is something that could be extended in the future to other workers who have a high unemployment rate – so look out Maori and Pasifika workers, or those who live in areas where jobs are scarce. The Ministry of Education warned that youth rates were at odds with the Government’s own stated education goals and would impact on the incomes of working students, thus creating barriers to gaining qualifications.
The Government did not listen to the more than 520 submissions opposed to this bill. It ignored the business community who said youth rates are not a silver bullet and the Government needs to do a lot better on youth unemployment.
It seems to me that the government’s accepted that a low wage, low skill economy is our future, where people are paid less and work longer, where good jobs are off-shored because of a lack of investment and hands-on economic policy and where those who are young and can’t escape overseas to a better life are consigned to economic marginalisation.