Labour cries foul over starter wage

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 15:49 18/10/2012

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Labour says it's found a major flaw with the Government's new starting out wage - employers are not allowed to ask a prospective employee's age or whether they have been on a benefit in order to assess eligibility.

Concerns about discrimination have also prompted the Greens to complain to the Human Rights Commission about Government plans to allow employers to pay 16 and 17-year-olds, and 18 and 19-year-olds who have been on a benefit for more than six months, $10.80 an hour for the first six months of a job.

The minimum wage is $13.50.

Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton said the Human Rights Act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the grounds of employment status which included being on a benefit.

''Their advice is that employers should not ask the benefit status of prospective employees.''

The Act also prevents employers advertising for young staff, she said.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said the starting out wage was doubly discriminatory to 18 and 19-year-olds because it created two separate classes of employment status.

"Those 18 and 19-year-olds who have not been on a benefit face missing out on jobs and those who have been on a benefit face missing out on pay.''

Fenton said despite the Government claiming the starting out wage was not compulsory, young people who had been on a benefit and turned down a starting out wage job would be sanctioned with up to a 13-week benefit stand down.

''So their rights are undermined as well.''

The policy increased risks of private information being unlawfully released, and the Government needed to be especially careful after security breaches at the Ministry of Social Development's kiosks this week, she said.

"We don't need our young people's personal information being treated in the offhand manner that is becoming a hallmark of this Government.''

On behalf of the Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson, Tony Ryall today told Parliament eligibility for the starting out wage would be a matter of discussion between the job seeker and the potential employer.

''The young person will be able to provide verification from Winz (Work and Income). Employers ask whether there are eligibility matters in terms of their employment.''

Ryall said he didn't expect specific jobs would only be offered on the lower wage.

''As is the situation now, employers take those matters into consideration when they make their employment decisions.''

Under the proposed legislation, the starting out wage would come into effect in April.

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