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Labour Tackles Govt Over Latest Unemployment Figures

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
David Cunliffe
David Cunliffe

Wellington, May 7 NZPA - The Government faced accusations today that it was failing to protect jobs as ministers gave assurances everything possible was being done to keep unemployment down.

Official figures released today showed unemployment at 5 percent in the three months to March, up from 4.7 percent in the previous quarter.

Labour's finance spokesman, David Cunliffe, raised the statistics in Parliament when he questioned Finance Minister Bill English.

"What does he say to the 35,700 more New Zealanders who have either lost their jobs or can't find work in the last quarter, or the more than 55,000 others that the NZIER (NZ Institute for Economic Research) predicts will be thrown on the scrapheap?" he asked.

Mr English: "What I would say to them is the most important thing we can do is take the steps that are going to build the confidence for business to invest and actually create new jobs.

"I would also tell them that the Government has been borrowing money and injecting it into the economy to protect all of us from the sharpest edges of recession."

Prime Minister John Key told reporters the Government was going to work as hard as it could to keep people in work.

"The trend is still in the wrong direction, it's going up, but I think the good news part of the story is that we have a considerably lower unemployment rate than Australia at 5.7 percent or the United States at 8.5 percent.

Other reaction to the increase in unemployment included:

* Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the upward trend was hitting young people particularly hard. "That's worrying, and it's a priority for the Government."

* Labour's social development spokeswoman, Annette King, said the Government should relax the criteria for special assistance. "The demand on foodbanks has grown significantly ... the Government has been prepared to help medium and large businesses and to prop up the banks, now it should turn its attention to struggling families."

* The Council of Trade Unions said although unemployment was less than had been forecast there were worrying trends in the figures.

Youth unemployment was 19.6 percent and for those aged 20 to 24 it was 12 percent. "The recent spate of redundancies and forecasts point to unemployment going higher over the next year," said CTU economist Peter Conway.

* Labour's Pacific affairs spokeswoman Winnie Laban said the unemployment rate for Pacific islanders had jumped from 8.7 percent to 13.1 percent. "Quick action and a real plan are now needed to prevent even more Pacific islanders from losing their jobs ... National is not doing enough to protect them."

* Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said good workplace communication was part of the reason for the better than expected figures.

"Most employers are determined not to lay off staff during the current downturn," he said.

"The jobs summit helped set expectations that employers and employees would work together to find a way through current difficulties and as a result there are some very constructive conversations taking place."

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