Bill English claims about Kiwi jobseekers using drugs 'not backed by data'
Prime Minister Bill English's claim that young Kiwis cannot fill job vacancies due to drug use is not backed up by the Government's own data, the NZ Drug Foundation says.
On Monday, English said several business owners a week complained to him about their problems getting Kiwi workers to pass a drug test.
"One of the hurdles these days is just passing a drug test. Under workplace safety you can't have people on your premises under the influence of drugs and a lot of our younger people can't pass that test."
However, the Government's own figures on drug use among job seekers seem to cast some doubt on the Prime Minister's remarks.
Beneficiaries are required to pass drug tests if asked when applying for a job, with sanctions for those who fail and the data collected by the Ministry of Social Development.
Its figures for 2015 show that while there were 31,791 referrals for drug testing, there were only 55 drug-related sanctions during the same period - only a 0.17 per cent fail rate.
We asked for referral and sanction figures for the last three years, but were told by MSD it would be treated as an Official Information Act request, giving the ministry up to 20 days to respond.
The data does not cover non-beneficiaries who may be required to take drug tests as part of their employment.
NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the available statistics showed only a "small minority" failed tests.
"He's [English] a guy who really likes data, so I thought he'd be much more careful - I guess as it's election year you can do that kind of dog whistle stuff…
"I think it's really irresponsible of the Prime Minister to make a statement like that which doesn't have a whole lot of backing in data."
LABOUR: CLAIM 'DIVERSIONARY TACTIC'
If the Government was genuinely concerned about drug use among the young, Bell said it should spend more money on prevention and treatment rather than enforcement.
"If the Prime Minister is genuinely concerned about drug use being a barrier to employment, then what is the Government's plan, where is the Government's money to deal with that?"
Labour employment spokesman Grant Robertson said English's comments were a "diversionary tactic" based on anecdotes rather than hard fact.
"In his pathetic defence of his Government's failing immigration policy, the Prime Minister has managed to condemn a generation of Kiwi workers as druggies," Robertson said.
WORKERS 'WHACKED OUT' - EMA
Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell backed up English, saying Kiwis on drugs were a growing problem for some employers.
"What he didn't mention…[is] the ones that don't even show up because they're not going to pass the test.
"Unfortunately it's very difficult to get any actual statistics, but we go and talk to our members, and we know that we're very busy doing drug testing policies."
Campbell said drug use was a particularly significant issue in industries like forestry and construction, which relied on workers being unimpaired.
"You don't really want an office full of people who are whacked out, but they're probably not going to kill anyone - but you've got someone driving a forklift or [using] a boning knife or a front-end loader, you want a guy standing next to him?
"You want to be in a forest chopping down a tree with some guy who's completely whacked?"
However, Campbell said skills shortages, rather than drug use, was the main reason for the use of migrant workers in some areas.
"We've been unable to train people at the speed we probably need to. A lot of companies don't want to have an apprentice because apprenticeships are time consuming and vexing, but frankly what I'm saying to people is, 'Don't b... to me about skill shortages, get some training going'."