Wellington, February 27:

The New Zealand government would consider subsidising a day off every two weeks

for workers to try to save jobs as the international recession bites, Prime Minister John

Key said today.

The idea of factory hands working only nine days every two weeks was debated by business leaders at a job summit organised by the centre-right government to consider ways to handle rising unemployment as critical export income falls.

Under the scheme, the government would pay for workers to undergo training or do community work on the 10th day. It was estimated to cost taxpayers 40 million New Zealand dollars (about $20 million) a year for 100,000 workers who otherwise might lose their jobs as export orders dried up.

Finance Minister Bill English told the 250 delegates at the summit that the idea would be put into planning for his first budget in May. Phil O’Reilly, chief executive of the Business New Zealand organization, told Radio New Zealand there was strong support for the idea but warned it would cost the government a fortune if every employer wanted to do it and further investigation was needed.

Another idea floated to create jobs as the current 4.6 per cent unemployment rate was tipped to rise to 7 per cent or more this year was building a bicycle track along the 1,600 km length of New Zealand’s two main islands over the next two years.

It would cost an estimated 50 million New Zealand dollars but could create nearly 4,000 jobs, and Key was reported to regard the project as a major tourist attraction at a time that visitor numbers are falling because of the recession.

Key, whose conservative-led government came to power in November, told the summit, “The world is experiencing the most dramatic economic downtown ever.”