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Caritas: Parliament showing lack of concern for young people

7 December 2012

Parliament showing lack of concern for young people - Caritas

Catholic social justice agency Caritas is deeply concerned about the messages Parliament is currently sending New Zealand’s young people.

Caritas spoke against the Government’s ‘starting-out’ minimum wage proposal at the Transport and Industrial relations select committee on Thursday. It also expressed disappointment at Parliament’s defeat by 61 votes to 58 of legislation that would have given greater protection to New Zealand’s youngest workers.

‘Making the labour of young people cheaper will increase the vulnerability of the entire youth workforce,’ Caritas research and advocacy coordinator Lisa Beech told the Select Committee considering the Minimum Wage (Starting-Out-Wage) Amendment Bill.

The government’s own calculations show most new jobs for lower-waged 16-17 year-olds will come primarily from substitution of jobs for 18-19 year-olds . ‘Displacing one group of vulnerable workers with another is not job creation,’ Lisa Beech said.

Caritas undertook in-depth interviews with four young people currently living and working in situations that future young people will face on lower wages, if the Bill is passed. The interviews showed that young people’s wages may currently support wider family household costs, independent teenage living, or study – all of which would be affected if young people earn lower wages.

Caritas CEO Julianne Hickey said if demand does not increase, whatever the price that is set for supply is what will be paid by employers. ‘Wages cannot be treated just as any other commodity, because people deserve to live in dignity on their earnings.’

Julianne Hickey told the Committee that Caritas recognises youth unemployment as such an urgent and serious problem that it has made it the focus of Social Justice Week in the Catholic Church next September. The Week takes place each year at the request of New Zealand’s Catholic Bishops to highlight a particular social justice concern.

‘Just making the labour of young people cheaper will not address the major challenges facing us as a community unable to find work for everyone,’ said Mrs Hickey.

Five of the members of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee had spoken against the Employment Relations (Protection of Young Workers) Amendment Bill which was defeated in Parliament on Wednesday night. Caritas said it was disappointed at the lack of knowledge displayed in the Parliamentary debate on the vulnerability of working children in New Zealand, including research undertaken by Caritas. Copies of the Caritas 2007 Delivering the Goods report on child delivery workers were given to the Committee.

Julianne Hickey said the starting-out wage proposal and rejection of the children’s work bill, together with the 90-day probationary employment period for workers, and the extension of sanctions to beneficiaries who refuse work, will all combine to make working conditions more difficult for young people.

Quoting research saying New Zealand’s elderly deprivation levels are equivalent to that of Sweden while child deprivation levels are equivalent to that of Mexico, she said Parliament is further entrenching these inequalities. ‘We are deeply concerned about the messages Parliament is sending about New Zealand’s future.’

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.

ENDS

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