by MARJORIE DAWSON
PALMERSTON NORTH — Young people shared their experience of unemployment and work search in a Social Justice Week seminar in Palmerston North on September 14.
Organised by the Palmerston North Diocesan Justice, Peace and Development commission, the seminar, “Walk Alongside: Meaningful work for the young worker”, drew more than 120 people to hear the five-member young people’s panel square off with a panel of politicians.
Keynote speaker Cathy Bi of the Caritas Advocacy and Research team told of her struggle to find work after finishing her degree last year.
Around the country and overseas, young people were finding it harder to find work.
The economic recession had hit youth employment harder than other sectors, and young people faced challenges in finding meaningful work, she said.
Youth panelists spoke of the difficulty of balancing work and staying employed while keeping up with study. St Peter’s College student Edward Richards spoke of the difficult choices faced by high school students between striving for academic success and working to save for university fees. “Working [while at school] can slice through student loans and allowances, but can also slice through the possibility of your success at school.”
Massey University student Fabian O’Halloran described the isolation and depression experienced by young people who are working and studying but still unable to afford to stay in contact by mobile phone. He said primary school teaching graduates were completing their studies, only to be faced with unemployment or insecure work such as relief teaching, while attempting to pay off huge student loans.
Asher Goldman of the youth union movement group Stand Up said young workers were among the most vulnerable and were suffering the most as a result of the job insecurity of probationary periods and lowered youth wages. “Every action the government has taken to resolve the situation of young workers results in lowering the rights of young workers,” he said.
One panelist said he would have liked to hear more solutions from the politicians on the day — representing Labour, National, the Greens, NZ First and Mana. In Palmerston North, 41 per cent of those on the unemployment benefit are under 25.
Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway said Labour would scrap the 90 day trial period and push for industry standards of employment, while Green list MP Denise Roche said the $11 an hour starting out wage for youth sent a signal their work was less valid than that of an older person.
Members of Parliament shared personal experiences, with National MP Ian McKelvie encouraging young people to follow his path into agricultural work, saying there are plenty of jobs in rural New Zealand which need to be filled by overseas workers, while NZ First list MP Asenati Lole-Taylor shared her experience of coming to New Zealand to study, but having to leave school and work to support her family.
In closing, Bishop Emeritus Owen Dolan spoke of the need to see beyond dollar signs and the facts and figures of economics to remember the primary importance of human dignity, generosity and compassion.