A nine-year low in unemployment figures should be making the government cautious about labour law changes, the opposition says.
The unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped from 4.6 per cent to 4.5 per cent in the last three months of last year to their lowest level since 2008, according to Statistics New Zealand data released on Wednesday.
That's still well above record lows before the Global Financial Crisis, but has prompted the National Party to argue the government's proposed labour law changes are putting the recovery at risk.
The government last month proposed a swathe of roll-backs of National's workplace laws, including by restricting 90-day trial periods to employers with fewer than 20 employees and restoring mandatory breaks.
That bill passed its first reading in parliament and could spend until the middle of the year in the select committee stage.
"The new government inherited a very strong labour market," National's employment spokesman, Paul Goldsmith, said on Wednesday.
"Our flexible labour market encourages businesses of all sizes to grow their workforces and with unemployment at a nine-year low, it's difficult to see why Labour's reforms are needed at all."
But Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said, amid strong economic conditions globally, focus needed to be put onto the quality of jobs, not just the number.
"The underemployment rate and the gender pay gap demonstrate that there is a lot of work to do to make sure jobs pay well and provide enough income for people to live well," he said.
"Under National, working families were lining up at the food bank. Labour is more ambitious for those families and will not rest until a fair day's work earns a fair day's pay."
The new figures were not all rosy.
Unemployment remains well off its low of 3.3 per cent in 2007 under the Clark government and the underutilisation rate - people working but less than they would like - is still at 12 per cent, or 340,000 people.
"This measure is just as important as the unemployment rate," Stats NZ 's Jason Attewell said.
An influx of workers has also kept a lid on wage growth.
Private sector wage inflation rose 0.4 per cent in the December quarter for a 1.9 per cent annual increase. Public sector wage inflation was up 0.5 per cent for a 1.5 per cent annual gain.
Employment Minister Willie Jackson said while the government welcomed the numbers, they showed some "real discrepancies" to work through, including a large number of part-time workers.