Young people working in similar jobs to adults should be paid the same wage, a Hawke's Bay youth worker says.
Parris Greening, chairman of the Hawke's Bay Youth Workers Collective and trustee of the Wellington regional Youth Workers Trust, said limiting young Kiwis to a reduced youth wage was wrong and discriminatory.
Proposed changes to the youth wage are being debated in Parliament this week.
The Minimum Wage (Starting-Out Wage) Amendment Bill, which would extend the reduced wage period for 16- and 17-year-olds to six months, has been slated by union representatives, opposition parties and the Human Rights Commission.
Workers aged 16 and 17 are paid 80 per cent of the minimum wage during their first 200 hours of a job - with an upper cap of three months on the reduced rate.
Mr Greening, who has seven children and is involved with rugby league and union teams, expressed particular concern at changes aimed at beneficiaries.
Under the changes, 18- and 19-year-olds who had received a benefit for at least six months would be paid the youth wage once they found work.
"I'm appalled that this Government thinks that because a youth has received a benefit they shouldn't qualify for the same rate as an adult. Are they a lower class of citizen?" Mr Greening said. "As youth workers, we encourage youth to be part of their community and become active, participating, equal citizens."
First Union, which represents about 12,000 workers in the retail sector, called the bill shameful.
"It's utterly appalling and is really yet another attack on workers," retail secretary Maxine Gay said.