Should youth wages return?

  • Letter to the Editor
  • February 1, 2017
  • Peter Owen
Should youth wages return?

Paying young people adult wages doesn’t make sense, says Peter Owen. Owen is the owner and general manager of Tasman country store Eyebright.

Prior to the abolishment of youth rates in 2008, I was happy to employ youths.  Now I am not and I’m interested to know if other employers are the same.

In the days when is okay to pay a young person less than the minimum wage I would always have a 15 or 16-year-old in training. I would spend time with them and happily teach them new skills. In every case these young people have gone on to be capable adults with a great work ethic. Since the abolishment of youth rates, I do very little employing of people under 18 and when I do I put them onto routine tasks they can be taught quickly, and I crack the whip urging them to perform like adults.

In my experience it’s nonsense thinking that children will perform, and should be paid, like adults. Within weeks of the youth rates being abolished all the young people I used to see stacking shelves at our local Pak’n Save had disappeared.

I am grateful that when I was young I had many opportunities to work. I would not have had those opportunities if employers had to pay me an adult wage. The knowledge and skills I gained in workplaces were more useful than those I obtained at school or university.

The National government went some way towards reinstating youth rates by introducing a six-month training period. It is, however, not enough because the hours accumulated in six months of working after school and in holidays are insufficient to lift young people to an adult’s performance. 

The old system worked perfectly. It enabled employers to employ young people and feel as if they were getting value for money, while providing the young person with high quality training.

I support a ‘living wage’ for adults, but extending this to children still living at home is nonsense, and in most cases means they miss out the valuable work experience.

None of the above sounds PC but it is common sense. Do you agree? If so I would love to hear from you. I have already spoken to my MP, but to gain some traction I need to show that I am not a lone voice. 

If you agree please send me an email headed ‘bring back youth rates’. If I get an avalanche of emails, I can catch the attention of my MP and then the government. 


Peter Owen

Owner and general manager

Eyebright Country Store

Richmond, Tasman     

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 747 December 2016 / January 2017

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