There seems to be a divide between what Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse and Prime Minister John Key have said about New Zealand workers, and what media and critics are saying. This was highlighted on Q & A yesterday.
What Michael Woodhouse said a week earlier on Q & A.
I think what you’ve done is presuppose that money is the only barrier to people moving to work. Now, what we know and what we’ve said and listened to employers about is that that is one of many barriers.
Geography is definitely one. Skills, attitude, recreational drug and alcohol all prevents some of our young New Zealanders from gaining work.
Woodhouse has cited five reasons preventing “some of our young New Zealanders from gaining work“.
Key has since been heavily criticised for I have had a listen to the RNZ item and Guyon Espiner introduced it with:
The Prime Minister admits high immigration is putting strains on the country’s infrastructure but John Key says the Government will continue to bring in a large number to fill in jobs. He says this partly because many employers can’t get New Zealanders to do the work due to problems with drugs or work ethic, or that they can’t move to where the jobs are.
After some discussion Key said:
“We bring in people to pick fruit under the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employer) scheme, and they come from the islands, and they do a fabulous job. And the government has been saying ‘well, OK, there are some unemployed people who live in the Hawke’s Bay, and so why can’t we get them to pick fruit’, and we have been trialling a domestic RSE scheme.
“But go and ask the employers, and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work, some of these people will claim they have health issues later on. So it’s not to say there aren’t great people who transition from Work and Income to work, they do, but it’s equally true that they’re also living in the wrong place, or they just can’t muster what is required to actually work.”
Isn’t that a major failing for New Zealand, if what you are saying is right, that these people are too drug addled, or frankly, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but basically too lazy is what you’re saying, they can’t get their act together.
Well what I’m saying to you is that, just go and ask an employer because I ask employers all the time, and we transition lots of people off Work and Income into work, but when you ask the question about why is there this group versus this demand, even in some reasonably low skilled jobs, it’s often they’re not in the right location, so they’re living in Northland and we need the work somewhere else, and that’s genuine, you can understand that, or they don’t have the skills, or there are these other wider issues, they’ll turn up for a while and then they won’t last there.
Key said that “lot’s of people” transition to work, and he cited location, skills and “these other wider issues”.
“Drug addled” and “too lazy” where Espiner’s words, not Key’s.
Jessica Mutch introduced yesterday’s coverage of Are some young NZers too lazy to do the work migrants will do? saying that what Woodhouse had said “sparked some debate” and that Woodhouse had made some “interesting remarks”. Woodhouse was quoted.
Mutch then said:
Prime Minister John Key followed up the next day saying the Government had to bring in migrants to fill the jobs because many young New Zealanders had a poor work ethic or a drug problem.
I haven’t seen any evidence of Key saying it like that.
Q & A then showed some street interviews in Wellington and showed a variety of responses, including:
Interviewer: We hear people saying that people, especially young people, don’t have a good work ethic, too lazy to work, drug problems…
Young person 1: Oh I’d love a job.
Young person 2: Some people don’t want to hire us because we’ve got criminal convictions.
Young person 1: I’ve got no one to watch my dog, that’s why I don’t, I’ve got no job.
Then three people were interviewed.
- Hew Dalrymple, farmer and vice chairman of Federated Farmers Maize and Forage
- Tony Stevens, one of three co-conveners of Stand-up, the young wing of the CTU
- Calvin Fisher from the Amalgamated Workers Union
My experience has been, especially through the squash industry and harvesting squash, the comparison between the different crews that work behind the harvesting machines is dramatically different.
And probably, I’ll be honest, the biggest problem with the, what I’d describe as perhaps the people that don’t want to come to work is the lack of attendance. So the foreign work crews will be probably fifty and up to a hundred percent more productive. They earn very good money.
And that money is equally available to anybody that’s doing this manual labour.
He says that the best earn over $1000 in the hand per week, and $800-1000 in the hand is common.
The local crews you might end up with ten behind the squash harvester one day, five the next day. We can’t operate our businesses like that.
Basically what you’re saying is that Kiwi pickers just aren’t reliable, they don’t turn up and they’re not as respectful.
No, some are, so I generalised with that, of course there’s exceptions to the rule, but unfortunately the system that’s in place at the moment is putting people out in that type of work that don’t want to be there in my opinion.
That sounds like an issue that deserves examination but it was not on the Q & A agenda.
Mutch switched to Fisher…
Calvin I want to bring you in on this as well, you’ve put Kiwi workers to some of these farmers, what’s been your experience? What have many of the farmers you’ve spoken to prefer, do they prefer the foreign workers or are they happy to employ New Zealanders.
Fisher: Well it really is a mixed bag…
…and he went on the say that the nature of agricultural work had changed markedly with bigger gangs now required.
Then Mutch switched to Stevens with the issue she was determined to pursue:
Tony I’ll bring you in on this, the Government coming out this week saying Kiwis are drugged up and too lazy to work…
No, that is what media has said, not the Government.
…what’s you’re experience, what’s your reaction to those comments?
Stevens: Hugely concerned by those comments. You’ve got to think about how we as young people and young workers are receiving that message from out highest office.
Actually it’s a message from media who appear to be misrepresenting what the Government has said.
This is our Prime Minister and Employment Minister basically describing entire generations as being hopeless and on drugs.
That overstates and generalises even more than media.
You know it’s already hard enough to try and enter the labour market as a young worker without having these you know these negative almost ingrained stereotypes so we go in to a job interview and employers already have this perception of us. It makes it very difficult.
I largely think it’s untrue, there are pockets of young workers that may be like that, but um I think that to really make blanket statements about entire generations really doesn’t give us a lot of hope in our Government.
There are plenty of valid criticisms and complaints that can be levelled at the Government.
But I have major concerns if someone representing young workers misrepresents what was actually said so much.
Fisher came in:
I want to pick up on Tony’s comments, I think the generalisation from the Minister was just disgraceful.
Back to Stevens:
Mutch: Tony at the end of the day they have to turn up for work consistently, they have to be drug free, for these examples here are they creating a bad impression for everyone else?
Stevens: Um, yeah, possibly, um but I think it’s still again an over generalisation of an entire workforce.
Stevens then went on to generalise about exploitation of immigrant workers.
Unless I’m missing something said by Woodhouse or Key or the Government it appears to me that some journalists have cherry picked and embellished comments made and have created a week long story out of it.
This has been carried on by Q & A, and interpretations claims made by Stevens in particular have been repeated and not questioned.
This is poor from the media and poor representation of young workers by Stevens if he misrepresents what has been said by Government ministers so much.
I don’t think journalists like Espiner and Mutch are lazy or drug addled, but they appear to me to be misrepresenting what politicians have said, seemingly determined to make stories that are inaccurate and unjustified.
There are important issues around work ethics, immigrant workers, exploitation of workers and unemployment. These have been poorly served by this coverage.
Q & A: