Right to work in New Zealand

Posted by in Activism, Development, Economics, Politics

An interesting debate erupted in the first days of New Zealand’s new centre-left coalition. Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones talked up a work-for-the-dole scheme for young people in the regions.

On a national question-and-answer TV programme Jones claimed he will announce four projects before Christmas. Under minor party New Zealand First’s coalition deal with Labour, Shane Jones is overseeing a $1 billion regional development fund.

He said they would include forcing young unemployed people to work and he would be taking the proposal to Cabinet. “I am not going to remain silent any longer while my young ne’er-do-well nephews in Kaikohe and other places fall victims to the gangs. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s not happening any more.

“I don’t want people on the unemployment benefit … they’ll have to receive a minimum wage, but there’ll be no more sitting on the couch. If they are unwilling, then I will spend every thinking and waking moment ensuring they do not fall back on the dole and be permitted to do jack, while the rest of us are out there working.”

Mr Jones would not say how he would get the scheme past Cabinet, or whether it would be paid for from the regional development fund.

Next day, new prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government’s work scheme to help young people into jobs will not be a work-for-the-dole scheme because they will be paid at least the minimum wage. She likened it to Labour’s Ready For Work programme, which targeted 10,000 NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) for six months’ work in Government-supported environmental or community projects.

Ardern did not endorse Regional Development Minister Shane Jones’ wish to compel young beneficiaries into work by compelling NEETs to work and cutting their welfare if they refused, saying Labour had not supported compulsion in the past and Cabinet has yet to work through the detail of how we encourage take-up.


The plan was criticised by Auckland Action Against Poverty. “If we’re trying to create a situation where people are in employment, that employment has to provide a living wage [of $20.20 an hour]. If beneficiaries were paid a liveable income, it would force employers to provide adequate hours and wages.”

The “living wage” campaign has broad support in New Zealand to lift the current minimum wage as set by the long-running previous centre-right National party. The costs which drive the latest “living wage” are reviewed annually and the original level was set after wide consultation.

RNZ: Shane Jones announcement
Herald: PM Ardern
NZ Living Wage