Govt looks at lower rates for young workers

The government is not ruling out a return to lower rates for young workers.

Prime Minister John Key this month indicated National would campaign on further changes to labour laws -- and did not rule out reinstating a youth minimum wage.

Now Employment Minister Kate Wilkinson, asked about the issue, said the Government would look at options to help younger people into work.

"We're particularly concerned about the number of youth who simply aren't able to find jobs, especially first jobs," she said.

"While the employment rate for those 20 and over is improving, this isn't happening for teenagers and we're taking a close look at what sort of policies will help them get the work experience they need.

"At this stage, the Government hasn't yet made any decisions on what policies it intends to campaign on this area."

The last government ditched youth rates, with some exceptions around trainees and young workers starting out, and said the minimum wage should apply to all workers from 16 years-old.

This March the Government ruled out supporting a bill introduced to Parliament by ACT MP Sir Roger Douglas seeking to allow the reintroduction of youth rates.

However when the bill was first brought up in Parliament Ms Wilkinson said National was "always willing to listen to good ideas".

She also praised Sir Roger for bringing up the issue and mentioned National's opposition to Labour's ditching of the youth rate, saying "we were concerned it would price young people off the job market".

When National ruled out supporting it Social Development and Employment Minister Paula Bennett said the Government did not think it would reduce youth unemployment and would be a distraction from improving job opportunities.

ACT argued the minimum wage stopped employers taking on young workers.

Labour youth affairs spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern today said it made no sense to pay younger workers less than others for doing the same job.

"There's no value or justification at all in simply getting rid of older workers and replacing them with cheaper young workers. That's just transferring the unemployment problem."

Youth unemployment was a problem -- 27 percent of those aged 15-19 were not in training or jobs, she said. But back in the 1990s youth rates had no impact on unemployment.

"And they won't bring levels down now. The lowest levels in recent times were under Labour when youth wages were abolished."

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes said youth rates would mean a pay cut for those already employed.

"A move to bring back discriminatory rates of pay will see young New Zealanders flocking across the Tasman," he said.

He said the Government had failed to address unemployment and more needed to be done to improve training and opportunities.

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