TOP calls for condition-free benefits over summer to get Kiwis onto orchards.
TOP is calling on the government to remove conditions around the income benefit and student allowance from November to April so as to allow those on these benefits to take on work to help cover the massive shortage in horticultural workers due to Covid-19.
The horticultural sector is facing a workforce crisis because international workers who normally come to New Zealand on temporary visas over the summer months are not able to travel here because of Covid-19 travel conditions. Those receiving an income benefit or student allowance cannot currently receive these benefits and work at the same time. TOP says that this restriction should be eased so as to allow these people to continue to receive their benefit and work at the same time, thus incentivising them to work in the country's horticulture sector this summer.
Following the Minister of Immigration's statement from yesterday, it's clear that New Zealand won't be opening up to overseas seasonal workers this summer as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic. This is absolutely the right choice - the safety of Kiwis must come first. However, this is a real problem for local growers, who have millions of dollars' worth of produce which may well rot on the vine with less than half of the 14,000 workers needed to harvest it all. We know that wages, job security and remote working are all concerns for Kiwis, so rather than whining about how Kiwis are lazy and won't do a summer's worth of fruit-picking, it's high time we actually put some thought into how we can make these jobs more attractive to students and beneficiaries.
How do we get students and beneficiaries to sign up for a summer of fruit-picking? Simply, we need to allow them to work while receiving their existing income benefits. This will allow beneficiaries, on an average of $250 per week, to go and take up jobs in horticulture to supplement their allowance. It would be hugely easy to administer and encourage Kiwis into seasonal summer work by guaranteeing an average basic income of $250 per week before earnings from fruit picking. This will open up a workforce to a desperate horticultural sector and send a strong message of support from the government.
This adjustment to our benefit would encourage students to work in horticulture over the summer and to save money. For beneficiaries, who normally can't work whilst on the benefit, they will be incentivised to get back into the workforce. In between horticultural jobs, students and beneficiaries will be able to enjoy some domestic tourism, or take some time off to relax. With this sort of incentivisation, we would see more Kiwis consider taking a summer to get a tan, get fit, and earn some good money in this crucial sector.
Our flagship policy this election is a universal basic income (UBI) of $250 per week for every adult. Coupled with the flat income tax rate of 33 per cent, it would leave every working Kiwi better off per year, as well as incentivising those on the Jobseeker benefit into working part-time or volunteering, as their benefit is not decreased by hours worked as per the current system. This would be a great example of the power of this progressive approach.