How much Kiwis could end up paying towards income insurance scheme

New Zealand has hit another record low unemployment rate of 3.2 percent. 

It comes as Finance Minister Grant Robertson has unveiled his plans for an "enduring solution" to build a safety net for the 100,000 Kiwis who lose their jobs every year. 

The income insurance scheme covers workers who are made redundant or lose their job because of a disability or health condition. 

You'll get 80 percent of your salary for up to seven months while you find a new job, train or recover. But it'll cost you and your boss - both of you will have to pay 1.39 percent of your earnings to a special fund to cover it. 

And employers also must pay out four weeks' redundancy. 

Once upon a time before COVID-19, Mike Hutchings used to ask passengers if they wanted "tea or coffee", but now he asks if they want "strawberry or pineapple".

He was among the hundreds of Air New Zealand staff let go in 2020.

"I even thought to myself, what's the least income I could earn and still survive?" he told Newshub.

Hutchings worried about how he'd provide for his four kids and pay the mortgage, so he pivoted fast, to selling ice cream. 

"It's people from the age of one to 99 that can come into our shop and have a great time."

But the favourite thing about his new career?

"I can't make myself redundant."

Sudden job losses like his are what the Government is aiming to cushion with its income insurance proposal.

"We believe we can better protect people's livelihoods," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said on Wednesday. "Now is the time to add to the fabric of our social security and add to the missing piece of our social security system."

The scheme works a bit like ACC - if you lose your job, you'll get 80 percent of your old salary for up to seven months. You're covered for redundancies, layoffs, health conditions - like cancer - and disabilities.

The income ceiling is nearly $131,000 - 80 percent of that is the most you'll be paid.

"We cannot afford to deny New Zealand businesses and workers the security that almost every other country in the world provides," Robertson said. 

But how will we afford it? Unsurprisingly, the scheme comes at a cost - a levy of 1.39 cents on every dollar earned by employees and businesses.

So if you earn the average hourly wage - currently $35.61 - you'll pay nearly $20 ($19.80) a week into the scheme.

"Frankly, it's a solution in search of a problem, and it's going to make our cost of living worse," says National leader Christopher Luxon. 

Business NZ doesn't agree. 

"We can't afford not to do this actually," says Business NZ CEO Kirk Hope. "The scheme is designed to get people back into the workplace."

But the Greens say it's creating a two-tier welfare system. 

"The Government effectively admitted that benefit levels are far too low to live on because they've had to create a whole separate system for middle and high income workers to go to," says Green MP Ricardo Menendez March. 

Robertson says it's necessary. 

"When people lose their jobs suddenly, there is enormous economic scarring for those people."

It would be an alternative to the massively expensive wage subsidy deployed for emergencies like the Canterbury earthquakes and COVID-19, to avoid mass job losses. 

But the predicted job losses never happened with COVID-19. In fact, in the December quarter, the official unemployment rate sunk to 3.2 percent, its lowest level since comparable records began in 1986. 

"What we've seen here is an economic resilience in New Zealand that we should be proud of," Robertson said. 

Robertson hopes this policy is something New Zealand will be proud of too.