Labour is beginning to sound like a more entrepreneurial small- business friendly party as it digests the results of its study into the future of work.

Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson has led the project which began last year and which last Friday had a second conference to look at what it is uncovering.

Though the fine print has still to be delivered, the general thrust of where the party is going marks a substantial break with its big-industry oriented past.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback about the importance of econouraging small business, entrepreneurship, and regional business, about being an active partner in building off the strengths that regions have got,” Robertson told POLITIK.

That’s why the party is keen on the Scandinavian approach to active labour markets such as Sweden’s flexi-security programme.

Central to that is the party’s already announced education policy which promises three years of free post-school education over a person’s lifetime.

The fact that this could be relatively elementary job training has been ignored in much of the commentary.

Robertson says that the training could apply to workers who were working in a sunset industry which was going to shed jobs.

They could undertake training for new jobs while still working at their old jobs.

“We want to take things further so that where there are people in employment in industries that are changing so that we just try and be a bit ahead of the game rather than wait till someone becomes unemployed and hope like hell that WINZ will do something for them,” he said.


“In this changing world of work, that is not going to work because of the numbers of people and extent of the change.”

as well as dealing with workers who lack the skills to compete in an increasingly sophisticated economy, Labour is also looking at the way work is structured.

One issue that has come in up in the feedback they have received is that many young workers, in particular, have multiple jobs.

And for those workers, secondary tax is an issue.

“Why do we have secondary tax,” says Robertson.

“Secondary tax was created on the idea that you would be taking somebody else’s job if you were doing a second job,

“An awful lot of people we have come across in our Commission are doing two or three jobs to make ends meet.

“They actually need the money now.”

That’s a clear hint that Labour will have a policy going into the next election promising to abolish the tax.

But they are also looking at incentives to set up different kinds of businesses, in particular, taxation issues over setting up of co-operatives.

Perhaps the most radical impact of the study has been a recognition by Labour that particularly young people have a “tremendous desire” to be their own boss.

“Technology gives many more opportunities for that,” says Robertson.

“We want to make sure we are supporting that.

“The message particularly from young people is what can we do to support them.”

At the same time, Robertson is keen to underline that the party is still committed to getting alongside big business and supporting projects like Air New Zealand’s  High-Performance Engagement programme which has also been supported by the E Tu union.

But what Robertson is saying, with his emphasis on small entrepreneurial businesses, moves the party in some ways closer to the direction the Greens were travelling in the last election campaign.

Then they announced a $5 million Game Development Fund, to support digital game developers to create and commercialise their products.

The same week the Greens announced that, Labour promoted its apprenticeship policy with a media event at a steel engineering works in Lyttelton.

In the light of Robertson’s comments, that sort of anachronistic thinking might be unlikely to happen from Labour during the next campaign.

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