Mixed reaction to Simon Bridges' minimum wage idea

By Jenee Tibshraeny


National's second-youngest minister is getting offside with some of the country's youngest workers with his bid to introduce a starting-out wage 20 per cent lower than the minimum wage.

Simon Bridges welcomed the transport and industrial relations select committee's report on the Minimum Wage (Starting-Out-Wage) Amendment Bill on Tuesday. Only nine of the 531 submissions to the select committee supported the move.

If enacted, the law change would allow employers to pay 16 to 19-year-olds $11 an hour from May 1.

Mr Bridges said it would give employers a real incentive to take on young and inexperienced workers and provide them with skills and work experience.

The owner of Nosh Food Market, Mount Maunganui, Jamie Blennerhassett, employed up to 15 young people over summer, and about six over winter. "We generally are paying above minimum wage, so we're not discouraged from employing young people."

He said he wouldn't employ more staff, even if he could pay them less.

"We require a certain level of skill, regardless of the age. We're paying by the role, not the age.

"I support the concept, but it depends on the industry and where they are working."

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason agreed.

"A starting out wage does not work for all sectors and all employers. Some employers have been burnt by taking on cheaper staff and learned that more experienced, higher-paid employees are worth their weight in gold. It's actually more about maturity than age."

Nonetheless, Unite union national secretary Matt McCarten said young people were more susceptible to being exploited, as many worked for large international companies.

"A lot of businesses are owned offshore and don't have any local knowledge, understanding or care."

Mr Mason responded: "In every industry there are unscrupulous people, but they normally get found out. The majority of business owners are decent folk just trying to be reasonable employers and make ends meet."

The Labour Party's spokeswoman for labour, Darien Fenton, said it would discourage young people from seeking work and encourage bad employment practices among employers.

Ms Fenton noted that while Australia had youth wages, wages were still much higher overall than in New Zealand.

The supermarket and fast food outlets the Bay of Plenty Times approached, declined to comment on the topic.

The changes

Three groups will be eligible unless they are training or supervising others:

  • 16 and 17-year-olds in their first six months of work with a new employer

  • 18 and 19-year-olds entering the workforce after more than six months on a benefit

  • 16-to-19-year-old workers in a recognised industry training course involving at least 40 credits a year

- Bay of Plenty Times

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