1 Mar 2017

PM accused of telling 'stories' to justify immigration

9:01 am on 1 March 2017

The Prime Minister's assertion that some young New Zealanders are too drugged to get jobs is disgraceful and it is time he backed Kiwi workers, a union leader says.

However, Bill English is making no apology for repeating the comments.

Prime Minsiter Bill English after a caucus meeting on February 7.

Prime Minister Bill English is under fire for telling "stories" about employers struggling to find workers because young Kiwis fail workplace drug tests. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said Mr English was using alternative facts to overstate the problem of drug use in a bid to justify massive immigration.

Mr English said on Monday he heard from employers two or three times a week who struggled to find enough New Zealanders to fill job vacancies - in many cases because the applicants failed the drug test.

He said those anecdotes, in part, helped explain record immigration. Migrants arriving with work visas would not fill the skills gap, he said.

Yet Ministry of Social Development figures show about 30,000 beneficiaries a year are drug tested before they start their jobs - and roughly 150 (466 over the last three years) fail or refuse to take the test.

Urine cup drug test drug testing

About 30,000 beneficiaries a year are drug tested before they start their jobs. Roughly 150 fail. Photo: 123RF

Yesterday, Mr English refused to name any of the companies he said told him young New Zealanders could not pass drug tests.

Employers, including construction companies, have backed Mr English, saying drug use was a major problem for them.

It was put to Mr English, in light of the beneficiary drug-testing statistics, that he was making out the problem of drug-affected New Zealanders to be bigger than it was.

"I just said there's anecdotal evidence that it's a problem, that's what I said.

"One piece of evidence for that is the extensive spend of government on the services that are there to try and get young people out of their drug habit - I mean that's real," Mr English said.

Mr Wagstaff said it was time Mr English showed New Zealanders looking for work respect.

"We're better than this and we should have a leader of our country who shows more respect to New Zealanders rather that grossly exaggerating an issue to justify to policies on migration that aren't working for New Zealand."

Mr Wagstaff said the Prime Minister's repeated comments were destructive to society.

"It's disgraceful really that we have a leader of the country, reveals his attitude to beneficiaries that is unjustified and unworthy and unwelcome."

PM telling 'stories' with no evidence - Labour

Labour's employment spokesperson Grant Robertson said Bill English was creating a smokescreen for failed training policies.

"I just think it's irresponsible of Bill English to be chucking around anecdotal comments of a way of diverting from the fact that we have a lot of New Zealanders who are not getting the skills and the training that they need to take up work opportunities - that we've got a real mismatch in our immigration policies.

"He's trying to throw around stories that he's heard as opposed to using the evidence that's out there."

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said Mr English was scapegoating young New Zealanders.

"It's not a message that is true, and I think it's dangerous ground for a prime minister to be on."

Mr English made no apologies for repeating the stories he said employers told him.

"I think the anecdotes demonstrate one pretty clear point - some young people take drugs, I think that's accepted.

"And if you take drugs it can be harder to get work, I think that's accepted."

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