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Prime Minister Bill English has named drug use as a key reason why New Zealand youth have difficulty securing jobs.
Responding to questions about high immigration, English claimed that he had two or three business owners a week telling him about the difficulty involved in getting domestic job applicants to successfully pass a drug test.
English described it as a problem in “most industries.” He stated that, “under workplace safety you can’t have people on your premises under the influence of drugs and a lot of our younger people can’t pass that test.”
English’s anecdotal evidence was questioned by media commentators and the New Zealand Drug Foundation.
Calling the statement “irresponsible,” NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell noted that it was not reflected in data, and only a “small minority” failed tests.
2015 data from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) indicates a fail rate of 0.17 per cent of the 31,791 drug test referrals during that year, the equivalent of 55 sanctions.
One student, who spoke with Salient but chose to remain anonymous, described English’s comments as being “far out of line,” showing “how out of touch he must be with the public at large.”
She believes that the issue is multifaceted, rather than simply an inability of prospective workers to pass drug tests.
“The problem isn’t drugs. The problem is a failing economy [which] spirals down to the bottom of the rung, young people.”
A Master’s student at Victoria University said they were tested various times in multiple jobs, and reflected: “drug testing happens, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say that people testing positive in […] drug tests is at all common in the areas I’ve worked in.”
An ex-Victoria University student who had been subject to mandatory drug testing said, “maybe the fact that drug testing is required might put some people off applying for jobs, but […] testing positive has never been a real issue in my workplaces.”
The Labour Party’s employment spokesperson, Grant Robertson, claimed English’s comments were “a diversionary tactic” which wrote off an entire generation as “druggies.”
“He’s trying to throw around stories that he’s heard as opposed to using the evidence that’s out there.”
English would not name the companies who had approached him, nor the types of drugs that caused the problem.
He said exceptions should not be made for people who were on drugs but who would otherwise be fit for the job, as that could put not only these prospective workers at risk, but also their colleagues.
A 21-year old beekeeper who had undergone mandatory drug testing for their employment said to Salient, “If you make a decent fuck up, you will get drug tested [in my job]. That’s just how it works, but […] out of my workmates, those who come from overseas do just as many drugs as the rest of us.”