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Beehive Bulletin - Fri, 3 Sep 2004

Fri, 3 Sep 2004 13:15:14 +1200

Beehive Bulletin

Govt streamlines Holidays Act

The government this week introduced changes to the Holidays Act to stop double payments of penal rates and to prevent employees who call in sick on public holidays from being paid time-and-a-half on top of penal rates. The changes will also allow employers to request medical certificates after one day if they suspect a worker is not genuinely sick. Labour Minister Paul Swain established a working party to look at the issues after concerns were expressed by business, and that group reported a month ago.

The government hopes to amend the anomalies in the new law before Labour Day on 25 October. Paul Swain said he had tried to balance the rights of employers and employees in making changes to the Act. The minister says the government's core policies have not changed. The government wanted to ensure employees are guaranteed an additional payment for working on a public holiday. Paul Swain says most New Zealanders consider that fair.

Support for flood-damaged forests

The government this week announced an assistance package for the forestry industry in the wake of February's lower North Island floods. Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton said that following a request from representatives of the forest industry and regional authorities, the government had approved an additional $3.36 million under the Agricultural Recovery Programme to clean up and reinstate forestry stands destroyed in the February floods.

Of that funding, $1 million is allocated to forestry-related remedial clean up work, and $2.36 million is set aside for the replanting of destroyed forest areas. The minister said forestry was always considered to be part of the agricultural recovery response. To be eligible, farmers/foresters must earn 51 per cent of their gross income from farming, cropping, vegetable growing, forestry activities or any combination thereof.

Govt to address compo-for-ciminals issue

Justice Minister Phil Goff this week gave notice of an urgent law change so criminals awarded compensation by the state have to give it to their victims. His action is prompted by a High Court ruling awarding $130,000 to five prisoners who were kept in a behaviour management system. Phil Goff says most New Zealanders believe the compensation to be unjust and want the law changed so the criminals' victims have first call on the funds.

The Department of Corrections plans to appeal the High Court decision and the minister supports the department's action. The minister says he believes most people will feel that the real injustice was those who had committed such crimes as murder should be compensated for relatively minor offending against them.

Good progress on industry training

Associate Education (Tertiary Education) Minister Steve Maharey this week released two reports that show the government and industry are working together to tackle skills shortages and build the skill levels of the New Zealand workforce. The reports are the Industry Training 2003 report and the June 2004 quarter figures on Modern Apprenticeships.

The latest figures on the Modern Apprenticeship programme show continued expansion to 6,874 Modern Apprentices, 374 above the target for June, and an increase of 20 per cent since last year. The Industry Training 2003 report once again shows significant advances in relation to the numbers of New Zealand employees learning under formal training arrangements in their places of work. Over 126,000 trainees joined Industry Training programmes last year compared with 106,000 in 2002. The minister said the positive results are evidence that workplace learning is an important part of our tertiary education system.

State schools in strong position

Education Minister Trevor Mallard this week released a table showing the financial position of every state or state integrated school in the country. It indicates that the vast majority of schools - more than 90 per cent - have enough money to cover what they owe.

The minister said the information invalidated opposition claims that schools with annual deficits were in financial strife. He said the opposite was the case - a school might be in deficit but have plenty of cash in the bank, as evidenced by the number of schools with deficits which have positive working capital (current assets less current liabilities). Positive working capital means a school has money left over after debts are covered, while positive net worth means a school can cover any deficit. The table is available at www.minedu.govt.nz by searching on 'schools financial positions'.

New gambling levy announced

Internal Affairs Minister George Hawkins this week announced that a new levy is being imposed on gaming machines, casinos, the TAB and Lotto to raise money for services that help problem gamblers. The minister says it is the first levy set up under the Gambling Act and would come into force on 1 October.

The levy will take money from profits and the levels will be: gaming machines in pubs and clubs - 1.11 percent of operators' gross profits; casinos - 0.51 percent of profits; New Zealand Racing Board (racing, TAB and sports betting) - 0.57 percent of profits; The Lotteries Commission - 0.14 percent of profits. George Hawkins says gamblers' losses in the year to 30 June 2003 were $1.87 billion -- up 2 per cent on the previous year. Losses for 2004 were estimated to top $2 billion.


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