Employers defend PM's comments on drug testing

Prime Minister Bill English is standing by his comments that drug tests are a hurdle for young Kiwi jobseekers, and employers are jumping to his defence.

The PM said on Monday that many Kiwis couldn't get jobs because "one of the hurdles these days is just passing a drug test".

The comments were quick to be ridiculed, with Labour MP Grant Robertson saying "it feels to me like Bill English might be on some mind-altering drugs because when you look at the facts, they show you the number failing drug tests is tiny". 

Mr English says he stands by his line, but has had to admit there's no hard data and he's basing his claim on anecdotes 

"Go and ask the industry" he said on Tuesday. 

"The industry", it seems, is backing him up.   

CEO of Horticulture New Zealand Mike Chapman says it's a real problem, and he has many employees not willing to give up drugs. 

"We are getting 50 percent of these Kiwis saying 'no, sorry, I'm not prepared to change my lifestyle, I like taking drugs'," he told Newshub. 

The same goes for the dairy industry. A mid-Canterbury dairy farmer who didn't want to be named told Newshub he employed and housed four immigrant workers, and has just employed another one because the only two Kiwis who applied had drug records.

The most recent MBIE employer survey shows 21,000 or 12 percent of bosses reported drug or legal high-related problems with workers, and in the years since July 2013, 466 job seeker beneficiaries failed or refused drug tests - but that's only an average of 0.029 percent of all jobseeker beneficiaries.  

Mr English only had anecdotes, but with many employers coming to his defence, he's not wrong - and while his call has annoyed some, it has resonated with many others.