Defending our young unemployed


Bill English has continued with the National Government driven meme that young unemployed New Zealanders are drug addicts, lazy and unemployable. Previously John Key had stated that unemployed New Zealanders failed drug tests and lacked a work ethic. Before becoming Prime Minister English had bluntly told a Federated Farmers meeting that "New Zealand workers are pretty damn hopeless". Both Key and English used conversations with their employer mates to justify their statements rather than data and research.

The reality is some distance from the myth that National is perpetrating to justify the large numbers of unskilled migrant workers coming into our country. Before the Christchurch earthquake the construction industry workforce was steadily shrinking and apprentice numbers had been cut. There is obvious justification for bringing in construction workers to make up a skill shortage (if we had continued building state houses at the same level as we did thirty years ago we would have retained a strong construction workforce). What is questionable is the large numbers of migrants filling jobs in the service and agriculture sectors.

Drugs are not actually a major problem for jobseekers and both Key and English would have known that less than 1% of those tested for drugs have been sanctioned. To give the impression that many unemployed were failing drug tests was clearly a deliberate lie to denigrate our young people to support the use of cheap migrant labour.

I described in an earlier post how workers have become viewed as mere commodities by many businesses and corporate interests. Commodifying workers to increase profits results in keeping labour costs down and being able to have a workforce on tap ('casually' turning them on and off as needed) is the ideal situation. Migrant workers often come from countries where wages and work conditions are minimal and few would be aware of New Zealand's employment law. While we have gone a little way to address zero hour contracts there are still large numbers of mainly migrant workers who have appalling working conditions and some are essentially working as slaves.

This Government has supported the dairy gold rush and is now fully behind the exploding tourist industry. It understands how high immigration pushes up businesses activity and GDP. However, low wage migrants have a negative impact on real productivity per person as each new migrant worker only adds a 0.5 growth equivalent. The demands on housing and infrastructure through this type of immigration cannot be met through their low incomes and productive value. It is false and unsustainable economics.

New Zealand currently treats its young appallingly, especially those who struggle to succeed in education and have few qualifications. Prior to 2008 the 15-24 year age group had twice the average unemployment, under National it has grown to three times. Between 15% and 18% of the younger age group have been unemployed since 2008 and for Maori/Pacifika it is around 25%. When you realise that our youth suicide rate is the highest in the OECD it becomes clear that too many of our young people are struggling and do not feel valued. On average in New Zealand, two young people will take their own lives every week and twenty will be hospitalised for self-harm.

New Zealand businesses want work ready labour units to enhance their businesses and do not want the hassle of employing young people with few skills who may need a high level of support and mentoring. It is far easier to import Indians, Filipinos or mature workers from the Pacific Islands than young 17-24 year olds with limited work experience and few skills.

We now have almost 30% of our young people growing up in poverty. Those who are failing at school are under-supported and funding will be slashed for those over 8 years. New Zealand has a long tail of underachievement in our education system and research shows that poverty is a major contributing factor. Hungry children from overcrowded, substandard homes struggle to learn.

Until recently those in state care were abandoned at age 17 (now 18) and there are few apprenticeships and training opportunities for those who are not academically inclined. There is even workforce discrimination in low skilled jobs when young people are expected to do the same work as an adult while being paid a "youth rate" for the first three months. It is hard enough for young people to survive independently but when accommodation and food still need to be paid on a reduced income, it is an added challenge. Our housing research in Invercargill revealed that independent young people struggle more than most to find and afford decent accommodation.

Rather than support and mentor our struggling young people into good work habits and develop higher skills, our Prime Minister dismisses them as hopeless drug addicts and his Government plans to spend $2.5 billion on prisons instead. No doubt we will need even more migrant workers to manage the prisons filled by the youth we have failed and to dig the graves of the many who lose hope altogether. We need to change the Government if we want a decent future for our young people, and ourselves, and build a fairer and more caring society.

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