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Minimum wage: Tariana Turia

Maori Party position on Minimum wage

Tariana Turia, Co-leader Maori Party

22 February 2006

The Maori Party will be supporting the Minimum Wage (Abolition of Age Discrimination) Amendment Bill before this House, in its direction to abolish age discrimination.

In our worldview, to arbitrarily single out any one age group, and discriminate against it, is entirely contrary to the recognition that it is the breadth and collective strength of people that is our wealth.

I thank Sue Bradford and the Green Party for introducing this legislation. Others will want to take the credit for it, but no one has stood up for 16 and 17 year olds. I have not heard anybody talk about that before, so I thank the Greens for that.

We can appreciate what employers are saying, and understand their concerns that their ability to select their preferred workforce, is being constrained by another intervention, even one with good intentions such as this - by the Government.

Having been an employer myself, however, I know I would not expect young trainee employees to carry out complex duties which I would expect more experienced employees to carry out.

I would expect that those I employed on the minimum wage, would be performing at the level of the basic skills that you would expect to see at the lower ends of the salary range.

It does not matter how old a person in a new job is, that person needs training. Frankly, when I see those young people pushing those trolleys around car-parks I do not think too many sixty-year-olds would want to perform that job, certainly for a minimal wage.

The central concept in this Bill is the word discrimination. The current Bill discriminates against those rangatahi who are aged 16 to17, by dropping the minimum rates to $7.60 an hour. Those rangatahi are tomorrow's parents, workers, leaders, helpers, spokespeople and mentors.

In order to ensure that rangatahi have the ability, confidence and support to fulfil those roles to the very best of their ability, we need to ensure that there is nothing that we are doing - as part of the Government, as whanau, as community - which limits or impedes their development. They are tomorrow's managers.

It is a question of justice. We must remove the discriminatory aspects of the Minimum Wage Act 1983, in the interests of our young people, which in the end is in the interests of our nation.

We have heard some shocking stories from right around the country about youth rates. We have heard about 15 year olds working long hours, being paid $5 an hour for stacking supermarket shelves. And that's legal.

The Maori Party has a particular concern about the injustice currently permitted by the legislation, given the demographics of our population.

Almost half of the Maori population is under 18 years old - forty-three percent compared to the non-Maori population, on twenty-four percent.

In real numbers, when we look at the age range, 10 years to 18 years; it's a figure of 103,158. That's a lot of young people on youth rates.

We know that for far too many of our young people, the crisis of poverty that racks this nation has pushed them literally out the door - out of their homes - into the workplace.

This House needs no reminding of the reality that the Maori poverty rate is over 50% more than the non-Maori rate.

We must also consider the reality that one in five children live in low-income families - which is nearly twice the level of the late 1980s.

Alongside this, the employment security that previous generations enjoyed has mostly disappeared, with many training and education options being too costly to pursue to a level where employment and income security is more assured.

I heard a member from National say that that is how one gets ahead and how one moves on to higher wages at a later stage in life. Well that is fine talk if one has money. Some people do not know what it is like to have no money and just to focus on living from day to day.

Finally, I want to return to the issue of discrimination and raise the obvious anomaly of this Bill. It is to do with disabled workers.

During our discussions with our constituents about this Bill, we have heard about intellectually disabled employees who know that they are being exploited, who know that they are being abused, and that it is legal. Yet this Bill does nothing to change the current law.

We will support this Bill through to select committee to remove the current discrimination against 16 and 17 year old workers.

Members of this House will be familiar with the whakatauki, Ma pango ma whero ka oti te mahi - interpreted in this context to mean that old and young, in fact all peoples, can work together and be rewarded equally for this work. It is a worthy goal to work towards.


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