23 Mar 2009

Few businesses ready to sign up for 9-day fortnight - PM

7:44 pm on 23 March 2009

Prime Minister John Key says he knows of only two businesses so far that may take part in the Government's nine-day fortnight scheme, being launched on Friday.

The Ministry of Social Development has estimated that up to 25,000 workers may use the job support scheme.

Mr Key told Television New Zealand's Q+A programme on Sunday that no businesses have formally signed up, and he knows anecdotally of one or two which are looking closely at it.

However Mr Key says the initiative was always a last resort for businesses and as the economy worsens, more may opt in.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly says he is not surprised, since the rules of the scheme have only recently become available to companies and many are still considering whether they will join.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly says while there is a lot of interest in the initiative, she also is aware of only two businesses seriously considering taking up the option.

She says the scheme is just another tool for companies who might need relief when the economy gets tough, and is not the answer to the recession.

Under the scheme, employees who opt for the shorter working fortnight will be paid the minimum wage for up to five hours a fortnight, and receive an assurance they cannot be made redundant.

The scheme will be available to private sector businesses employing 100 or more staff from 27 March until December 2010, but only for up to a six-month period within those dates.

Training offered

Some training institutes have pledged to offer free or low-cost training to workers signing up to the scheme.

Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics executive director Dave Guerin says five campuses across the country will offer short courses to businesses and employees receiving job support scheme subsidies.

Mr Guerin says despite many institutes already running at full capacity, it wants to do its bit to support the government initiative.

Mr Key says free training was not included in the Government's scheme because it was too expensive and too complex to organise.

He describes the move by the institutes as a further sign the community is pulling together to find solutions as the country goes through a difficult recession.

"This is of real benefit to those who can use that time to train and upskill themselves and I think it's a very generous offer and one that we loudly applaud."

Trade unions have also welcomed the move by the institutes.