Freeze minimum wage until threat of lockdowns are over - Judith Collins

Judith Collins says the minimum wage should be frozen until the threat of future lockdowns has passed.

But she didn't appear to know what it was when asked on The AM Show on Wednesday, guessing it was "$18.60, something like that". 

It's actually $18.90, but will be $20 from Thursday - Labour fulfilling a promise made back in 2017.

"We would actually be holding it at the moment, until we know we are out of yoyoing in and out of lockdowns as we've had twice so far this year, particularly the Auckland region, but the whole country's been affected," Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday. 

"Until we know that businesses aren't going to close, which means that people lose their jobs."

She said the minimum wage was currently "about three times what the benefits are" and "significantly better than not having a job". 

The current Jobseeker benefit for a single person over 25 sits at $250.74 a week after tax - it will rise to $258.50. A person working full-time on minimum wage will end up with about $679 in the hand after tax from April 1. 

National has long argued against minimum wage increases when Labour's been in power. Labour typically put it up more than National does - when Labour came to power in 2017, the minimum wage was just $15.75 - so it's gone up 27 percent in four years. 

In contrast when National last held the purse-strings, while the minimum wage went up every year, the total increase was just 31 percent. 

"We always put up the minimum wage too, but it has to be able to keep people in work," said Collins. "We're very concerned about the fact people are losing their jobs because businesses are closing."

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show

Unemployment jumped from 4 percent to 5.3 percent in the wake of the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown last year, but has since recovered slightly to 4.9 percent. 

Last week Statistics NZ said there were 1000 fewer businesses operating in January than a year before. 

Collins said she backed the latest increase to benefits, particularly the change to abatement levels that will allow beneficiaries to earn a bit more before they start having their benefit docked. 

"It is generally a good thing, so we've always supported issues around abatements being able to be used, but obviously you don't want people missing out of full-time jobs... the big issue is don't do something that's going to lose someone their job." 

She said if National win the next election, minimum wage hikes would not be reversed.