A 'Covid' election - PM reveals $300m jobs fund at Labour campaign launch

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 8 Aug 2020, 1:49PM

A 'Covid' election - PM reveals $300m jobs fund at Labour campaign launch

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 8 Aug 2020, 1:49PM

The Labour Party has pledged a $300 million package to protect struggling workers and businesses from the worst impacts of Covid-19.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the policy today as she launched her party's re-election campaign in front a packed house of party faithful at the Auckland Town Hall.

In a speech that covered everything from her rapid rise to power three years ago, to the tragedies of the Christchurch mosque attacks and Whakaari/White Island, Ardern said now dealing with the impacts of Covid-19 was "very hard to fathom".

"If you had told me then that our launch in 2020 would be in the midst of a global pandemic with our borders closed – I would have found that very hard to fathom," Ardern said.

"If you'd told me that Clarke and I would have a toddler, I wouldn't have believed we would have been so lucky.

"And if you'd told me that we would have just completed a term in Government with both New Zealand First and the Greens, I'd assume you'd been watching excessive amounts of 'Stranger Things' on Netflix.

"And yet here we are."

Ardern outlined the Government's achievements - from boosting incomes and the minimum wage to the Zero Carbon Act, but also acknowledged ongoing issues with affordable housing and failing to get the Auckland light rail over the line.

She repeated the line consistently: "There is more to do."

She spoke of the major tragedies during her term.

"I remember vividly the moment I received a phone call telling me that there had been a shooting in Christchurch on March 15 last year," she said.

I was in a van driving to visit a new environment school in New Plymouth.

"Much has been said about that afternoon, the terror that was rained down on our Muslim community, and what it represented for us as a nation.

"It will forever be etched into our collective memories.

But so too will the response."

March 15, Whakaari/White Island, and Covid-19 had "devastated in very different ways", she said.

"They drew out a response from Kiwis that was the same.

"They drew out a sense of collective purpose, of determination, of kindness. They are all values we will need as we take on our next challenge – and our next challenge is huge.

"Some have asked me whether this is the Covid election.

"We would all prefer the world to be free of the health and economic impact that this global pandemic has created.

"I would rather not have had to close our borders. Or put in place the most severe restrictions on personal freedoms in our country's history.

"But it has been our new reality, and one that the team of five million have made work in the most extraordinary way.

"We have now one of the most open economies in the world, and we have a head start on our recovery and rebuild, but our job is not done."

The new jobs policy builds on the existing Flexi-wage scheme - a wage subsidy to help employers hire those on a benefit at risk of long-term unemployment.

Funding will allow businesses a subsidy of on average $7500, and up to $22,000, to hire unemployed New Zealanders.

The total $311m investment is estimated to support up to 40,000 jobs, keeping New Zealanders off the unemployment benefit.

Another $30m will also be ring-fenced to help out-of-work Kiwis start a business through an expanded Flexi-Wage Self Employment programme, which will provide the equivalent of the minimum wage for up to 30 hours a week.

The funds would come from the current underspend from the Wage Subsidy, rather than drawing from the Covid Response Fund, which could be needed to fight the virus again, or to reduce debt, Ardern said.

"The new Flexi-wage scheme is a key plank of our economic plan to support businesses to recover and to provide jobs to those who have lost work due to [Covid-19]," Ardern said.

"It will directly help businesses who are getting back on their feet after lockdown to take on new staff while also supporting those New Zealanders who have lost their jobs to get back into work and off a benefit quicker.

"Businesses large and small are crucial to our economic recovery, but they can't do it alone. The Flexi-wage is a way for the Government to partner with the private sector to support job creation."

It would also address inequality issues, Ardern said.

"Those without formal training qualifications, those over 50, disabled people, and Māori and Pasifika workers will disproportionately bear the brunt of an economic downturn. The scheme is designed to support those hardest hit to find work again."

Ministry of Social Development evaluations showed the scheme generated $7 in benefits for every dollar invested and that 70 per cent of people hired during the evaluation period had a job at the end of it, she said.

"Our low unemployment rate shows the wage subsidy scheme has worked to stop a spike in unemployment, and now we have a laser-like focus on jobs and business support to support growth."