I’m pretty chuffed with the unemployment rate dropping to its lowest level in nine years.
That means we are almost back to where we were before National took over.
However, I wouldn’t be doing right by the communities that supported me into Parliament if I didn’t demand more for New Zealand workers.
While unemployment has dropped, we still have 343,000 workers who want more work but can’t get it.
While unemployment has dropped it’s still twice as bad statistically for Māori.
While unemployment is down we are working longer hours which aren’t paid that well in the first place.
It isn’t good enough that we have a third of a million Kiwis wanting more work but unable to get it. It isn’t good enough that we have such low hourly wages and it isn’t good enough that workers don’t have strong unions behind them protecting and advancing their interests.
For me, the real indicator of how successful we will be in helping New Zealanders get into work isn’t the unemployment rate – it’s actually the inequality rate.
In January of this year, Oxfam related data showing the richest one per cent of NZ owned almost 30 per cent of the wealth. Meanwhile, the poorest 30 per cent only owned one per cent of the wealth.
The extent of homelessness and the long queues at food banks are testimony to this.
That’s not a New Zealand that I am proud of.
Jobs with dignity, employment that builds you while you build it, is a priority and that means we need to critically analyse the quality of jobs we are offering and ensure the dignity of the work and the workers is respected by employers.
When statistics come out, they don’t always tell the full story.
For example, try telling people in Manurewa, Māngere, Ōtara and Porirua that the average wage is just over $60,000. Try telling young Māori in the Far North that they have every opportunity and there are jobs galore for them.
Or try telling Pacific Islanders and people with a disability and women who lag behind in wage rates that everything is just fine now – it’s more than likely that they will just laugh at you.
The reality is that there is always a story within the story, and I, along with other government ministers, am determined to get the balance right in terms of the workplace.
A couple of weeks ago I announced the first part of the new employment strategy I’m working on where we are attempting to reduce youth unemployment in the regions.
Cabinet agreed to fund the first tranche of the initiative of $13 million which will help immensely as we look to reduce the 80,000 NEETs (not in employment, education or training) young people who are wandering around the country, with no plan or strategy in their lives.
I am looking forward to visiting the regions and meeting with groups who have been crying out for support over the last few years.
The previous government forgot about these people – but I will be an employment minister who is intent on coming up with an employment strategy for all New Zealanders.
Unemployment down to 4.5 per cent is a great start, but I and the rest of this new Government want to be doing far more for workers than that.
– Willie Jackson is the Minister of Employment and a Labour List MP.
First published in the Manukau Courier