12 Oct 2012

Opposition parties call for inquiry into 'jobs crisis'

10:16 pm on 12 October 2012

The Labour, Green and New Zealand First parties have launched a parliamentary inquiry into what they describe as a jobs crisis in the manufacturing sector.

The independent inquiry was announced at meeting in Auckland on Friday hosted by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union and attended by about 60 union leaders, MPs and employers.

The inquiry will hold a series of public hearings in December and publish its findings early next year. In September, the finance select committee blocked a request for a similar investigation.

NZ First leader Winston Peters, left, Labour's David Shearer and Greens co-leader Russel Norman.

NZ First leader Winston Peters, left, Labour's David Shearer and Greens co-leader Russel Norman. Photo: RNZ

The parties say real change is needed to reverse the 40,000 jobs that have been cut from the manufacturing sector in the past four years.

Labour leader David Shearer told the meeting that the sector is critically important to New Zealand.

"It generates as much in GDP as agriculture and tourism put together. For every job in manufacturing, between two and five other jobs outside manufacturing are generated."

Employers and unions are combining forces to come up with a series of steps they believe the Government should implement to stem what they see as a tide of redundancies over the past few months.

These goals include asking the Government to intervene to reduce the dollar, seeking an active policy for local and central government to buy New Zealand-made goods, and more government initiatives to support manufacturing jobs.

The groups say the National-led Government is failing to acknowledge that unemployment has jumped 2% since it came into power in 2008.

EPMU national secretary Bill Newson says recent redundancies by Solid Energy, Norske Skog and Tiwai Point are the beginning of an escalating trend in New Zealand's core exporting industries.

Mr Newson says the meeting was not a stunt and will be the first of many talks to try to find a solution to what he describes as an emerging crisis.

He says the goals form the basis of a petition which will now travel around the country to its members and to employer and manufacturing groups.

Unions also hope to sit down with Prime Minister John Key and major manufacturing employers to work out a clear strategy to stem the tide of redundancies.

Govt urged to intervene in economy

The meeting ended with unions, opposition MPs, businessmen, academics and economists calling for the Government to intervene in the economy.

The clear consensus was that the only way to stop redundancies across key exporting sectors is to sort out the high New Zealand dollar.

The other hot topic was extending the role of the Reserve Bank's role to control exchange rates.

At the moment, it only controls inflation through interest rates. Those attending the meeting believe that will increase more exports, and bring more money into New Zealand.

Nothing wrong, says PM

John Key did not attend the meeting, but on Friday reiterated that he does not think there is a problem with the manufacturing sector.

Mr Key said Opposition leaders attending the meeting - Labour's David Shearer, Greens co-leader Russel Norman and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters were "trying to manufacture a crisis for New Zealand".

"We're growing at 1.6 percent. Our unemployment rate's not rising, Australia's just gone to 5.4 percent, manufacturing jobs have actually been rising over the last three or four years. Yeah, it's tough for some New Zealand businesses against a high exchange rate."

Mr Key says it would be more correct to argue that New Zealand was enduring a jobs crisis four years ago.