Grant Robertson 'prepared to consider' National leader Todd Muller's proposal to incentivise hiring

The Finance Minister is "prepared to consider" National's proposal to give businesses $10,000 every time they employ a new full-time worker, but there are aspects of the policy he's wary of. 

Grant Robertson said on Friday the proposal by National leader Todd Muller is "certainly an idea that we're prepared to consider" and said there is a "range of options" the Government is looking at to further support businesses. 

But he said there are parts of National's policy that concerns him, for example, a business owner would be eligible for an upfront payment of $5000 if they can prove an intention to hire someone new - but they could fire them after 90 days. 

A business owner would be eligible for $10,000 per new full-time employee, and Muller said they would get an upfront payment of $5000 and the rest would be paid out after the new worker had completed 90 days. 

Robertson suggested that leaves room for dodgy employers to exploit the system and get cash payments of $5000, regardless of whether they intend to keep the employee for 90 days and receive the additional payment. 

"There's some elements of what I've heard that I would question, for example, the idea that you could get $5000 and then sack someone after 90 days - you'd want to be careful about that," Robertson said. 

"But look, we welcome constructive ideas that are about getting people into work. We've got a host of schemes already underway to do that, and we'll keep looking at other ideas as well."

Muller, when asked what's to stop bosses cutting employees after 90 days, said 90-day trials already exists under labour law - but that's only for small businesses after the Government scrapped it for medium and large firms.

"We think it works well and we would have it involved for all companies," Muller said of 90-day trials for employees. 

He said under the policy ensures businesses would have the freedom to let the worker go if they're not meeting expectations, but he said National has "made it clear they don't get all the $10,000 upfront". 

Robertson said the Government is already helping small businesses, through the wage subsidy scheme, which has been extended to businesses with 50 percent or more revenue loss, as well as interest-free loans and tax changes.  

Robertson also alluded to the Government's $50 billion COVID-19 relief fund unveiled in Budget 2020, which includes $1.6 billion to provide free trades and apprenticeship training.  

He said in many ways National's policy "builds on what we've already been doing in terms of subsidies for apprenticeships which we announced in the Budget".

Muller acknowledged there are "already significant options" for businesses provided by the Government, but he said he was disappointed National's proposed GST cash refund policy wasn't included in the Budget. 

The policy, unveiled earlier this month by former National leader Simon Bridges, would provide GST cash refunds to small businesses most affected by the COVID-19 based on the GST they paid in the six months to January 1.  

Robertson said the Government's priority so far has been to help keep Kiwis in their jobs. 

For those full-time workers who lost their job because of COVID-19, the Government announced a scheme on Monday that will provide them with tax-free weekly payments of almost $500 a week for a period of 12 weeks. 

But with Treasury forecasting debt to reach 54 percent of GDP by 2022, and Stats NZ figures showing job numbers plummeted by 37,500 in April, Muller suggested a fresh set of hands are needed to steer New Zealand through the crisis. 

"This Government has a view that more debt is a better way of supporting small business. We disagree with that."