Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Unions demand Bill English apologise for describing jobseekers as 'pretty damned hopeless'

Bill English has come under fire for his remarks to Federated Farmers. Photo / Getty Images
Bill English has come under fire for his remarks to Federated Farmers. Photo / Getty Images

Finance Minister Bill English is today standing by comments he made that some unemployed young males "are pretty damned hopeless" amidst calls for an apology by the Council of Trade Unions.

The union's president Richard Wagstaff said Mr English needed to apologise to working people after the "reprehensible" comments.

"His comments encourage farmers to have poor attitudes and relationships with farm workers," Mr Wagstaff said.

Mr English's comments were made during an address to a Federated Farmers meeting in Fielding last Friday. Labour's workplace relations spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway was at the meeting and recorded Mr English, passing on some of his comments to media.

Mr Lees-Galloway said the deputy prime minister was asked to increase migrant worker numbers for dairy farmers, and in responding said, "a lot of the Kiwis that are meant to be available [for farm work] are pretty damned hopeless.

They won't show up. You can't rely on them and that is one of the reasons why immigration's a bit permissive, to fill that gap".

According to Mr Lees-Galloway, Mr English also said the country had, "a cohort of Kiwis who now can't get a license because they can't read and write properly and don't look to be employable, you know, basically young males".

But in a statement issued this morning, Mr English, who is overseeing work that uses a powerful Statistics NZ database to identify young people who are at risk of poor outcomes later in life, said the comments released by Labour had been taken completely out of context.

"I don't think anyone can disagree that we need to do a better job of dealing with complex disadvantage in many of our poorest areas.

"I made these comments in the context that there is a hard core of young New Zealand men who, for a number of reasons, have entered adulthood without qualifications, skills and hope. We know this because, for the first time, a Government has dug into its own data to find out who these people are, where they are, and what has lead them to these sad outcomes.

"With that information, we're working with agencies and NGOs to develop more specialised services that will capture these people at a young age and help them become independent and lead better lives."

Mr Lees-Galloway said the finance minister's comments were an indictment of National's record on training and education.

"Labour is focussed on giving young New Zealanders hope and opportunities. That's why our Future of Work project is so important. Unlike Bill English, we have no intention of writing off a whole generation of Kiwis."

- NZ Herald

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