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Barker: All Hand To The Pump - Everybody Working

All hand to the pump - everybody working

In recent times speeches by politicians to Rotary Club members have taken on a new significance. Well, let me assure you from the outset that I am here to present an optimistic picture for the future of all New Zealanders.

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Hon Rick Barker Speech
6pm Stortford Rotary Club, Hastings 17 August 2004

Good evening all Tena koutou katoa, thank you for this opportunity to talk to you and I have some very good news.

In recent times speeches by politicians to Rotary Club members have taken on a new significance. Well, let me assure you from the outset that I am here to present an optimistic picture for the future of all New Zealanders.

I am in a very good mood, what else could I be, with the fantastic news coming from our economy and indicators like unemployment at record lows? This is what I want to talk about tonight.

Last week's Statistics NZ figures show unemployment stands at 4.0 per cent in Gisborne-Hawkes Bay, with 3,900 registered unemployed. Nationally, unemployment is at 4 per cent in the year to June.

This is the lowest regional unemployment rate since the late 1980s.

The number of people in the Gisborne-Hawkes Bay region with jobs has risen from 86,000 in June 1999 to 93,900 today.

I'm particularly pleased that Maori unemployment has more than halved nationwide. More than 40,000 more Maori have found jobs. Maori employment currently stands at 172,500, compared to 131,800 in June 1999. . Clearly, initiatives like the Jobs Jolt package, giving work skills to jobseekers, and the increase in funding for regional staff at Work and Income are paying off.

Youth Unemployment The number of young people receiving the unemployment benefit has fallen by more than sixty percent since 1999.

There were 45,578 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 receiving unemployment benefits in May 1999. By May this year the number had dropped by 61 per cent - to 17,527 young people. Fantasic.

Falling welfare rolls demonstrate the government's success at moving young people off welfare and in to work or training. And we've put a real emphasis on ensuring young people get a good start to their working lives. These figures show this approach is working.

New programmes like Modern Apprenticeships and Gateway in schools, and the increasing number of young people going to polytechnics and universities, are ensuring that young people are leaving school committed to building a future for themselves. This stands in stark contrast to the 1990s, when young people were left in misery on the unemployment scrap heap.

The challenge now is to drive youth unemployment levels even lower. Work and Income are currently implementing youth-focused programmes in each of their regions to achieve this goal.

Generally - unemployment very low

New Zealand now has the second lowest unemployment rate in the OECD, behind Korea - significantly lower unemployment than our major trading partners including Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

More New Zealanders than at any time in our history are now in paid work!

For the first time ever, two million New Zealanders are in paid jobs. Since the government came to office 211,000 new jobs have been created - that's 136 more people in work each day since the beginning of 2000. That's every day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for four and a half years - 136 a day. Not bad aye.

Economy

The National Bank recently said the economy must be 'on steroids' to be maintaining its strong growth when all of the normal indicators have been suggesting we should be in the middle of a marked slowdown.

New Zealand's growth performance continues to outperform the OECD average. Our economy grew at over twice the OECD average in the March 2004 quarter.

GDP growth in the last quarter was also up - to the highest level achieved in the last four-and-half years. Growth for the March year was 3.6 percent.

It is a remarkable political achievement. And it is only right that in this time period the government has continued to rebuild the state sector after a decade of under-funding in the 1990s, and let's be frank 80's.

The major beneficiaries of new spending in this year's budget were the Children, Young Persons and Their Families service, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence, the Department of Corrections and Customs. Witness our commitment to strong public services.

But wait - there's more.

Work and Income have just announced securing jobs for 30 per cent more people than aimed for during the 2003-04 financial year.

They placed 52,000 people into jobs (a town the size of Napier - a football stadium, like Eden Park). This is 8,000 people above target for the last financial year. The biggest achievement was in the group unemployed for up to 26 weeks, where WINZ moved 29,388 people into work for 3 months or more.

This helps raise a lot of families and children out of poverty.

While I have so far mentioned plenty about statistics, let's not forget that underneath these aggregates that characterise an economic and social success story - there are individuals and families benefiting.

A person with a job has a renewed sense of confidence and pride, a family with financial pressures easing, and in its most basic and real terms money for a pair of rugby boots or perhaps a bicycle for the kids. For once there's money to go around.

Skilling up

The $104.5m Job Jolt package, kicked off by the 2003 Budget, helps up-skill jobseekers by providing IT training, employment coaching, and gaining other work skills and the 2 year Pacific Wave Strategy, targeted to get work for Pacific peoples, is part of a wider government focus that aims to see everybody's lot improved.

Budget 2004 put another $25 million into funding Modern Apprenticeships. This along with industry partnerships and training schemes will boost the vocational skills of job seekers. Provision has been made for another 500 places in the Modern Apprenticeship scheme this year adding to the around 6,500 already involved in the scheme.

The government is highly focused on matching skills to the jobs our economy needs and is removing barriers to work so more people can also enter the labour market.

There more opportunities for everyone to get jobs and skills. What a positive transformation at the very heart of our society.

Looking locally

Hawke's Bay Work and Income have been particularly pro-active to get people off benefits and into long-term work. This is great particularly at a time of low unemployment. Employers are beginning to see that Work and Income clients are ready willing and able to get working. They are choosing to come to Work and Income for their staff. This is what I want to hear.

In this area Work and Income have been operating a Mobile Employment Service to reach people who live in rural areas. This placed 52 people into jobs over the last year.

The Job Jolt programme here has focused on training specialist work brokers. Staff are particularly targeting people on Sickness Benefits and Invalid Benefits who want to work. Work Brokers are identifying what the problems are and seeing what jobs their clients can do. It is not a matter of making sick people work. I think that is nonsense, rather, we're bridging the gap. In South Auckland there is a government pilot trial to actually pay for operations people may need in order to work.

Another successful project here has been to help teenage mums work part time to lift their incomes and keep their skills, but at the same time be able to look after their children.

The biggest push in this region has been the Seasonal Worker Strategy. Not only are Work and Income preparing their clients for seasonal work by providing some of the clothing they may need and arranging for transport, they are facilitating in extra training needed.

Seasonal work is increasingly become a career path for some locals here. I announced in May that changes to the stand-down period will also encourage people into seasonal work because their income can be assessed over the whole year rather in short bursts. This should reduce the stand-down period which means the growers can attract more into the industry and likewise, workers are happier to come back to this type of work.

Also the employers are starting to pay decent wages and value their staff more highly in times of shortage. It is a two way street.

Summary

So it's all hands to the pump. I am annoyed at the negative headlines about employers being let down as there are not enough people to go round. Isn't it great that things are booming? Glass half empty or virtually full?

Let's look outside the square. There are still many people looking for jobs and perhaps employers need to think about considering employing people they would not normally: Think about older people, more part time people, people with disabilities and people who can job share. Also take on someone that can learn on the job - give more people a go.

And on that note I will wind up. It is an optimistic note and I am excited about the direction in which this country is going. It is no accident, but a direct result of government investment, partnership with industry and a can do attitude.

Thank you.

ENDS


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