National MP Louise Upston hits out at Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni for cancelling JobStart meeting

National MP Louise Upston is disappointed Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni cancelled their meeting to discuss National's JobStart policy.  

Last week Upston told Newshub Sepuloni had agreed to meet to discuss JobStart, a policy that would help businesses by giving them a grant of $10,000 for each new worker they employ. 

It came as Upston raised questions about the timing of the Government's flexi-wage scheme extension, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had promised during the election campaign would be implemented by Christmas. 

Flexi-wage, introduced by the previous National-led Government, is a subsidy given to employers by the Government for taking on the risk of employing new workers who need support to gain the required skills for the job.

The flexi-wage extension was finally unveiled by Ardern and Sepuloni on Thursday. The scheme has been expanded to non-beneficiaries, and employers from next Monday will be able to apply to receive $276 a week per worker, among other offerings. 

Upston says while the expanded scheme is "helpful", it doesn't go far enough and she wants to push the Government to adopt JobStart, where employers would get $5000 upfront and $5000 after 90 days for hiring a new worker. 

"She cancelled. She didn't want to meet with me this morning after all which was no surprise," Upston told reporters on the way to Parliament on Thursday, when asked about her planned meeting with Sepuloni. 

Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni.
Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni. Photo credit: Newshub

"I'm hoping she'll still want to schedule because I don't think this is the answer that people out of work need right now and the Government dragged the chain on it, didn't see it as a priority, only when we started to push them and say 'where is it, what are you doing for people who've lost their jobs?'"

Sepuloni confirmed to Newshub that she reached out to Upston to reschedule their meeting, saying she wanted to get together after the Government had announced its flexi-wage extension. 

"I've asked to reschedule the meeting. It made sense to talk to Louise following the announcement of flexi-wage," Sepuloni said. "I'm looking forward to catching up with her soon." 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said last year he was "prepared to consider" National's JobStart policy, but he raised concerns about employers getting an upfront payment of $5000 and then being able to fire the worker after 90 days.  

"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 at the time. 

"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."

Ardern said flexi-wage is an important part of the Government's economic recovery plan, with the expansion expected to help 40,000 more New Zealanders into employment.

National MP Louise Upston.
National MP Louise Upston. Photo credit: Newshub

"We are seeing the positive outcomes of our strong economic plan with recent Statistics New Zealand data showing unemployment fell from 5.3 percent to 4.9 percent, but there is more to do."

Upston argues that JobStart is "cleaner, simpler, faster and more effective" and businesses will be "disappointed" by the flexi-wage scheme announced by the Government. 

"Our JobStart initiative would've helped 50,000 people in five months. This is over three years and unfortunately, there are a large number of people who are out of work and the Government is extending it to everyone rather than focusing on those who are currently out of work and on benefits, so that was a bit of a surprise."

Upston also says the Government was too slow and should have implemented the policy extension by Christmas as Ardern promised. 

"If you lost a job in December, it has a serious impact on you," she said. "The fact that it's stretching over three years... National introduced it and this is an extension to a policy that's already been in place. I was expecting a bit more."

Sepuloni said the flexi-wage extension gives certainty by providing set rates to businesses looking for staff. The duration of the subsidy will be based on the needs of the worker. The job must continue after the payments have finished.

"The flexi-wage expansion gives employers confidence to take on and train people, knowing the person will be supported until they're equipped and ready to meet the requirements of the job."

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