Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Users scuppering their cause

Calling a talkback host to promote legal highs when you're under the influence puts the boot into your own case.Photo / Getty Images
Calling a talkback host to promote legal highs when you're under the influence puts the boot into your own case.Photo / Getty Images

I was sent a text this week from someone who'd been listening to my radio show.

We had been talking about legal highs and whether the psychoactive substances should have to go through costly and lengthy testing processes before manufacturers could put them up for sale.

The people who were phoning in were either users of legal highs or people who'd tried them, found them far too potent and scarpered back to their local dope dealer.

The texter noted wryly that if Parliament replayed the last half hour of talkback, which comprised callers supporting legal and illegal highs, some of whom appeared to be under the influence as they raved about the benefits of their drug of choice, legal highs would be banned the next day and the country could forget about the relaxation of cannabis laws.

I saw his point.

Those calling for the liberalisation of our drug laws should really call earlier in the day when they haven't smoked a spliff and then knocked back a few shots for good measure.

Scarily though, the guy who said any decent parent would have kept a few of the now banned BZP party pills stashed away so they could give them to their kids, to allow them to experience pure elation, appeared to be stone cold sober.

I can think of a few moments of pure and utter joy with my daughter - the exact moment at the age of 3 that she realised she could read; landing in New York; swimming in the rain - and not one of them involved mood enhancers, legal or otherwise.

The pro-liberalisation team should get some better representatives to promote their cause - or else they will be damned out of their own mouths.

They're OK with chicken feed

I find the concept of paying young people less than those with more on the clock, chronologically speaking, appalling.

I would far rather see people paid on their merits, irrespective of age, gender or ethnicity.

An enthusiastic 16-year-old who has failed to thrive in a classroom environment could well be a better employee than a 21-year-old who has drifted from job to job to appease his case manager at Winz.

But after a night of talkback and listening to employers and teenagers, I am reluctantly forced to accept their view - that youth wage rates may well help youth unemployment.

When the youth wage rate was abolished in 2008, youth unemployment was just over 41,000. Four years later, the rate is closer to 62,000.

I know we've been experiencing a recession during that time, but that makes it even more imperative that a way is found to ease young unemployed Kiwis - those who aren't in apprenticeships or studying at tertiary institutions - into work.

I don't believe that the new "starting out" wage is going to drive our young unskilled people over to Australia, as Opposition leader David Shearer claimed.

The minimum wage across the ditch is lower than our "starting out" wage for 16 and 17-years-olds and on a par with our pay rate for 18-year-olds.

The only young Aussies who get a better deal are their 19-year-olds.

I know a lot of our small and medium enterprises are doing it tough. Employers told me that it costs a lot of money to train up a young person in even the most basic job.

It costs them time as well as cash, and they have to wait months before they see a return on their investment - if ever.

Many of them say that they are expected to do the job schools have failed to do.

The teenagers looking for work say they are desperate to prove that they have what it takes.

But at a time when 100,000 other Kiwis equally desperate, but with more experience in the workforce, are looking for work, employers just aren't willing to give them a go.

I asked the young ones whether they'd be willing to work for $10.80 an hour and they all said they would be. After all, said one young man, it's better than being on the dole.

But really, $10.80 an hour? I was earning 50 per cent more than that, as were the better waiting staff, when I was maitre d'ing in restaurants 20 years ago. It just seems a risible amount for any worker.

I think, too, that workers are more likely to stay on the minimum wage for longer under this scheme, now there's the threat of bringing in lowly paid teenage workers to replace them if they start getting bolshie.

But it's all very well for me to sit on the sidelines and comment. I'm not an employer, trying to keep his or her head above water in these precarious times. I'm not a 17-year-old, desperately trying to get work and start making their way in life.

If employers say they're going to give young people a chance provided they don't have to pay the universal minimum wage, good.

If young people say they're willing to work for peanuts to prove they're not monkeys, fine.

The "starting out" wage is only for six months and the employer doesn't have to start them off at that wage if they think they've found a kid with the right stuff.

I just hope that there will be fairness and goodwill from both sides.

- Herald on Sunday

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