A Green Party proposal to raise the youth minimum wage by 58 per cent is drawing an anguished reaction from employers.
The party's youth policy, released in Auckland's Vulcan Lane by youth spokesman Nandor Tanczos yesterday, proposes to "raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour for all workers, no matter what their age".
At present the legal minimums are $7.60 an hour for 16- and 17-year-olds and $9.50 aged 18 and over. There is no legal minimum for children under 16, and Mr Tanczos said later the Greens' policy would not cover under-16-year-olds either.
Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said the increase for 16- and 17-year-olds would drive employers to hire older workers instead.
"Young people aged 15, 16 and 17 often have not only no formal skills, but also no work experience, so this is their first job," he said. "They need to learn some of those very basic skills about work such as timeliness. So the reason the youth wage is there is to encourage employers to take them on."
"What this [policy] is likely to lead to is that if you have a choice between someone a bit older and someone younger, you will take the older because they are more likely to have those skills."
A cabinet paper in 2002 reported that more than 50 per cent of 11- to 14-year-olds work at least occasionally, 25 to 30 per cent of 15-year-olds are in regular part-time work, and 40 per cent of 16-year-olds and nearly half of 17-year-olds are employed.
Mr Tanczos said the Greens did not propose changes for under-16s because of the likely effect on jobs.
"You don't want a newspaper rate for newspaper deliverers. That would just mean that no one would employ anyone to do that work," he said.
But the party says 16- and 17-year-olds should get the same pay as adults because "if young people are doing the same work as older people, they should be paid the same wage".
The Green Party policy also proposes to:
* Lower the age of eligibility for unemployment and sickness benefits from 18 to 16.
* Pay all tertiary students a living allowance at the same rate as the unemployment benefit.
* Write off one year of student debt for every year that a graduate works in New Zealand.
* Establish an independent panel to review school suspensions and expulsions.
* Treat drugs as a health issue, not a crime.