The wage and employment statistics out today, the last before the election, show how the Government has failed workers over its two terms.
Unemployment has at last fallen below 6%.
But at 5.6% and 137,000 people, it is still far higher than the 3.5% in December 2007 – so we know we can and should do much better. Despite the luck of booming dairy sales (now running out) and lots of jobs created for the Canterbury rebuild (which account for half of the growth in employment during the year), the Government has created a record of 20 quarters – five years – with unemployment higher than Australia.
We usually have lower unemployment than Australia: over two-thirds of the time since 1986.
This is the first quarter to end that appalling record, but reflects temporary factors, not a permanent turn around in jobs.
On top of the 137,000 unemployed, there are 104,500 people looking for work but not officially classified as unemployed – up from 97,200 a year ago.
The number of part-time workers wanting more hours has risen from 87,500 to 98,200 over the year.
The Government has discriminated against young people with youth rates — and we were told that 90-day fire-at-will trials were meant to help them into jobs.
The evidence from their own Ministry (MBIE)  is that 90 day trials did nothing for young people but it has stripped them of basic rights, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation.
An audit report  into the effectiveness of Government changes to the welfare system says 90-day trials are a ‘barrier to sustainable employment’. The proportion of 20-24 year olds not in work, education or training is higher than in Sept last year, even after taking seasonal effects into account, and is still too high.
There are still 71,000 young people not in employment, education or training.
Wage growth has been appalling. Workers are not getting a fair share of the growth in the economy. It looks like growth is peaking, yet wages still have lots of catching up to do. The average wage, whose rise fell behind inflation in the last quarter, is only 1.4% higher than it was 5 years ago (in June 2009). After taking account of price rises, and middle-income earners are falling behind even the average wage.
Housing costs are eating into families’ living standards, increasingly giving them a choice between huge debts from buying an unaffordable house or trying to make do in a poor quality rental and having to move far too often.
The Household Incomes Report showed the half of households with the lowest incomes saw no increase in their incomes between 2009 and 2013, with housing a big contribution to poverty and inequality.
We need a new Government that gives priority to higher wages. That needs a strong rise in the minimum wage and a commitment to real improvements in how wages are negotiated. This Government only promises to strip away further work rights, meaning stagnating wages, increasing inequality, and struggling families. It’s time to change the Government!