Weighing up the party promises: as Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand went to press, the election on September 17 was less than six weeks away. National's promised tax cuts, as yet unspecified, should be balanced against Labour's promise of interest free student loans by next April.
The announcement of interest free student loans for students who reside in New Zealand is a major victory for those who have campaigned for a fairer student loan scheme, according to a nursing student leader. Labour announced the second of its key election pledges late Last month, promising to scrap all future interest charges on student loans from April next year.
Head of NZNO's National Student Unit, third-year student at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Jacqui Bennetts, said interest free student loans would enable new graduate nurses to make some real impact on paying off their student Loans in the first few years of their working Lives. "The interest free policy, combined with the fact new graduates now get a decent wage under the national pay deal for district health board nurses, will make paying off debt considerably easier," she said. "It will also help alleviate the nursing shortage."
Bennetts works with many caregivers in her holiday jobs and many of them would Love to go nursing. "But the student Loan scheme has meant they haven't even considered it. Interest free Loans open possibilities for these people to go nursing."
A nurse at Hutt Hospital Megan Roseingrave said the new policy was a "good call. Without interest on my loan, I will have a chance to reduce my loan without going overseas. This year I worked in Alice Springs for three months to try and pay off some of my student loan. Heaps of nurses from my ward have gone overseas to try and pay off their loans".
Under the new policy, graduates who choose to work overseas will be charged interest at the current rate.
Responding to the announcement, Council of Trade Unions' (CTU) vice-president Helen Kelly said the policy promised far more to those paying off loans than National's "miserly" plan for tax rebates on interest paid. "Labour's tertiary policy says no interest will be charged on student loans while those with Loans stay in the country," she said. "In contrast, National is offering a small tax break that is inequitable because it benefits those who can afford to pay the most off their Loans. Labour's policy is a radical move that will ease a huge debt burden on many thousands of New Zealanders." The policy would help to keep much-needed skilled workers in the country and be fairer on women. "Women take twice as long as men to repay their student loans--because they are often paid less than men--and therefore pay thousands of dollars more in interest. Labour's announcement is a light at the end of a long tunnel for a huge number of workers who are struggling to pay their student Loan, save for their retirement, buy their own home and provide for their families," said Kelly.
WORKERS WOULD PAY A HIGH PRICE FOR TAX CUTS, SAYS CTU
If it is elected to government, the National Party says it will cut taxes. The Council of Trade Unions, of which NZNO is an affiliated member, presents seven reasons why that plan is bad news for working people.
Tax cuts are great news if you are rich
When National cut taxes twice in the mid-19905, most of the $2 billion in cuts (71 percent) went to the highest earners. This year Australia cut taxes and the average increase was $A6 per week, but the top earners got an extra $A86 a week.
Tax cuts mean user-pays for public services
If the Government has less to spend, then it will have to cut public services. In the past, under National governments, this meant working people paid more for things like health and education. The tiny benefit from a tax cut does not meet these costs.
Tax cuts mean job losses
Cutting public services means that the people who provide those services may Lose their jobs. These people are our friends, family members and neighbours who do a range of vital jobs--from caring for our young, elderly and sick to protecting our environment and policing our borders.
Tax cuts mean a weaker economy
Tax cuts under former National governments meant less money for spending on the road and rail networks, industry training and economic development. Unemployment was high and the lack of investment for the future has caused the low pay and skill shortages that affect our country now. During the tax cuts of the 1990s, there were hundreds of families relying on foodbanks, many were forced into overcrowded housing because of market rentals on state houses and benefits were cut. In the meantime, the rich enjoyed their tax cuts.
Tax cuts could push up mortgage rates
Tax cuts are only affordable if the Government cuts spending--or increases borrowing. Borrowing puts pressure on interest rates, making it harder for those working people paying off a mortgage.
Workers need pay rises more than tax cuts
Unions say that wage rises, not tax cuts, are the best way to put more money into workers' pockets. New Zealanders are going to Australia because wages there are on average 25 percent higher. It's not because they have Lower tax rates--they don't. A pay increase one year can be built on in the next year. A tax cut is a small, one-off benefit for which workers will pay a high price.
Tax cuts hide the real agenda on wages
National plans to weaken collective bargaining by bringing back another Employment Contracts Act, taking away time and a half on public holidays and removing all rights of appeal from any worker sacked in their first three months on the job. In other words, your wages will be lower under a National Government.