"Pretty damned hopeless."
That's the Finance Minister's description of some Kiwi workers he made to a Federated Farmers meeting -- and he's standing by it.
Under questioning from Labour's Iain Lees-Galloway in the House today, Bill English admitted telling the meeting there's "a cohort of Kiwis who now can't get a licence because they can't read and write properly and don't look to be employable -- y'know, basically young males".
Mr Lees-Galloway was also at that particular meeting in Feilding on Friday where Mr English was asked to increase migrant worker numbers for dairy farms.
In an audio recording of the comments, Mr English says:
"They won't show up, you can't rely on them and that is one of the reasons why immigration is a bit permissive to fill that gap".
Mr English said he stood by his comments, calling it a "realistic description" of the problem facing the country's workforce.
"The Government is at the sharp end of this every day and I referred to the common response from New Zealand employers that many of the people on our Ministry of Social Development list will not show up to the jobs they're offered and will not stay in the jobs they're offered," he said.
"If the member [Mr Lees-Galloway] can't handle a realistic description of the problems we're dealing with then he's out of touch."
Mr English says it's the view of "dozens" of New Zealand employers.
Mr Lees-Galloway, Labour's workplace relations spokesman, says Mr English's comments at the meeting were a "disgrace".
"It shows the Government has given up on our young people and have no faith in their own education system.
"Bill English is the Deputy Prime Minister. It's his job to give young Kiwis hope, not dismiss them as hopeless," Mr Lees-Galloway says.
He believes Mr English's aspersions against workers are an indictment of National's record on training and education.