Editorial - Cracks in Labour's plank

Last updated 08:01 25/10/2012

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Labour's proposals for getting more Kiwis into jobs were kicked along at question time in Parliament on Tuesday. Party leader David Shearer asked Prime Minister John Key what was being done to encourage more New Zealanders to stay in this country. More specifically, what was being done to introduce a training requirement as part of government procurement processes.

This requirement was among 20 recommendations emerging from the 2009 Job Summit. Little has been done to implement it. Mr Key could only say: ". . . as I understand it, employers do get actively involved in that training component, and they are actively working with us in a number of areas". The Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub was an example. Moreover, the Government spent "a huge amount of money" on providing training courses, apprenticeships and support for youngsters.

Labour obviously sees an opportunity to promise something Mr Key is not providing. Mr Shearer's ideas for government intervention in the labour market include adopting a "one in a million" target for government contracts. Based on a British programme, this would require companies to take on one apprentice or trainee for every $1 million in contract work they receive from the Government.

Labour would start this scheme in the construction sector, then expand the scheme into other sectors, Mr Shearer said.

Another idea is more contentious. He noted estimates that show half the 30,000 workers needed to rebuild the earthquake-devastated city were likely to be brought in from overseas. But 162,000 Kiwis are looking for work and "we must give them priority". A Shearer-led government accordingly would make it harder for businesses to bring in migrant workers.

Chris Trotter, a left-wing political commentator, was among those who spotted flaws in those proposals. First, choking off the inflow of immigrants will suffocate the economy. Second, the real issue is the depressed level of New Zealand wages and salaries, because this critically explains why so many Kiwis head for Australia. Mr Trotter wants Mr Shearer to tell him what he would do to raise the incomes of New Zealand's wage and salary-earners. The public would welcome hearing this, too.

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- Waikato Times

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