Red Alert

Archive for the ‘minimum wage’ Category

Marginalising young workers

Posted by on March 22nd, 2013

This week, the government passed its Minimum Wage (Starting Out Wage) Amendment bill by one vote. The Bill was introduced late last year by Kate Wilkinson before she was sacked and has been taken up with enthusiasm by her replacement, the Hon Simon Bridges.

From 1 May, 16 and 17-year-old workers can be paid 80% of the adult minimum wage ($11.00 an hour) for six months. If they start a new job, they can start again on youth rates, regardless of previous job experience. 18 and 19-year-olds, who may have previously had jobs paying adult wages, can also be paid sub-minimum rates if they have been unfortunate enough to be on a social security benefit for six months, including the invalids benefit and sickness benefit.

Cutting workers’ rights and pay is classic National Party. They’ve already made it impossible for young workers to challenge any unfair treatment and dismissal in the first 90 days of employment, which was supposed to open up thousands of jobs. They have failed to address youth unemployment in any way, shape or form, which is a national scandal. And so, they’re resorting to their tried and failed policies of last century.

The bottom line is this : cutting workers pay does not create jobs. Employers take on workers when there is work to be done, not because they can pay them less. Full stop.

MoBIE openly admitted that it had very little way of telling whether this bill will meet its government’s claim that it will reduce youth unemployment. They came up with a “best guess” that it could create 400 to 1,100 net jobs. I’m wary of these numbers. Who can forget the 2011 Budget projection of 170,000 new jobs by 2015?  Not much sign of that as unemployment continues to rise, more good jobs are lost, and our youth unemployment is up there with the worst in the OECD.

Other advice on the bill was worrying. Treasury suggested that paying sub-minimum wages is something that could be extended in the future to other workers who have a high unemployment rate – so look out Maori and Pasifika workers, or those who live in areas where jobs are scarce. The Ministry of Education warned that youth rates were at odds with the Government’s own stated education goals and would impact on the incomes of working students, thus creating barriers to gaining qualifications.

The Government did not listen to the more than 520 submissions opposed to this bill. It ignored the business community who said youth rates are not a silver bullet and the Government needs to do a lot better on youth unemployment.

It seems to me that the government’s accepted that a low wage, low skill economy is our future, where people are paid less and work longer, where good jobs are off-shored because of a lack of investment and hands-on economic policy and where those who are young and can’t escape overseas to a better life are consigned to economic marginalisation.

Simon says

Posted by on February 27th, 2013

New Labour Minister Simon Bridges had his first outing in question time (other than a patsy from his own side last week).  Mini me answered on behalf of the PM when he answered my question today :

DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that the living wage is “simplistic”?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, and for two reasons. The first is that the Family Centre’s living wage of $18.40 an hour is calculated on the basis of a two-adult, two-child family, whereas a lot of low-income earners are in different circumstances—for example, students working part-time. The second reason is that it assumes that paying much higher wages is costless, when it is not—it costs jobs. If all employers in the country paid a minimum wage of $18.40, it would cost an estimated 26,000 jobs.

Darien Fenton: When he said that providing New Zealanders with a living wage is not high on his Government’s agenda, was he saying that Kiwi workers should not expect to make a living from their work while he is Prime Minister?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No. Ultimately, above the minimum wage, what is paid is up for employers and their employees to negotiate.

Darien Fenton: Does he believe that the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour is enough for families to live on; if so, why do two out of the five children in poverty come from families in work?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What is very clear is that actually there is a range of circumstances. For people on the minimum wage with children, for example, there are a range of packages available to them from the Government. The truth of the matter is that actually our minimum wage, as a proportion of the average wage, is the highest in the developed world.

Darien Fenton: How is it fair that his Government is giving minimum wage workers a measly 25c pay rise, while at the same time it is splashing out on $23 million worth of bonuses for Solid Energy’s management?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What is very clear is that having a job is much better than not having one, and we are very conscious, unlike the other party, which does not seem to understand economic fundamentals, that the higher we raise the minimum wage, the more people are put out of jobs—7,000 under your policy.

Darien Fenton: Why is the Prime Minister still insisting that a $15-an-hour minimum wage will cost thousands of jobs when Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment both say there is little evidence to support this, and his own Minister of Labour said this morning that there is no science behind that argument?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is uncontroversial amongst good economists that the higher the minimum wage goes, the more jobs people do not get. At $15 an hour, it is about 7,000—a town.

My verdict :

Not a bad effort for repeating government lines and economic mythologies about the minimum wage, but not a big step up from the previous Minister, Kate Wilkinson.

Shows a reliance on officials for advice and not much originality in the answers.

Provided some useful lines for the opposition in future debates around work and wages.

Your verdict :

Marks out of 10? 



A hard day

Posted by on November 5th, 2012

Our thoughts are with the families of the 29 men killed at Pike River Mine two years ago as the Royal Commission of Inquiry delivers its report.

The contractor trap – more flexibility, no rights

Posted by on October 14th, 2012

This was published on the Radiolive website on 5 October.

There’s an old Kiwi maxim: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but that doesn’t ring true for many thousands of Kiwi workers.

For the past three decades there has been a steady growth in what is described internationally as non-standard work, including temporary workers, casual and labour hire workers and a substantial increase in the use of independent and dependent contracting.

Some contractors are highly skilled, entrepreneurial individuals, who are able to extract a significant premium for their efforts outside traditional employment.

However, for many, the opportunities of earning a secure and stable income are remote. Their classification as contractors effectively gives them no rights to the minimum protections provided for those classed as employees under New Zealand Law. For these workers the employment relationship, with its rights and obligations, under current law has become meaningless.

Look around you. Many fast food delivery workers, truck drivers, couriers, construction workers, caregivers, security guards, cleaners, telemarketing workers, forestry workers, even actors and musicians are contractors.

While Labour is pushing for the minimum wage to be $15 an hour, these workers have no guaranteed minimum wage.

While we enjoy our Christmas breaks, these workers have no paid holidays.

If we are treated unfairly at work, we can challenge our treatment under the law, but contractors have no such right.

If we want to join a union and bargain for a collective agreement, we are guaranteed that right, but that’s prohibited under competition laws for contractors.

Over the past few years many contractors have been in touch with me to talk about their situation. When Telecom announced that its two biggest network Engineering contractors, Transfield and Downer EDI had lost their contracts for the Northland and Auckland network to a new company, Visionstream, 700 skilled lines engineers were told if they wanted work they would have to move from being employees to contractors.

These workers were powerless. If they wanted a job they had to give up secure income and employee protections, buy their own vans and equipment and take all of the risks of the job on themselves. Many did. And they’re now struggling.

Some horrific stories from truck drivers hit the headlines. They had mortgaged their houses to buy the rig, and then the companies they were contracted to slashed hundred of dollars off their weekly pay claiming the drivers were overpaid. They showed me the figures; many are earning below minimum wage. Every week sometimes dies on the road through a truck related injury. We respond with ever-stricter safety laws, but does anyone ever think that the drivers are speeding, cutting maintenance, working over legal hours because that’s the only way they can make a living as owner-drivers?

Courier drivers are in a similar situation. As vehicle drivers have been converted from employees to contractors, courier drivers have been required to provide their own vehicle, pay for vehicle maintenance, insurance registration, and other running costs.

New Zealand is not alone in this phenomenan. Studies are taking place around the world and some governments have implemented new legislation to regulate dependent and independent contracting.

In this dog-eat-dog world of increasing competition, firms often turn to contracting as a means of avoiding the costs of employing someone directly. Others do it in a cynical attempt to avoid labour laws.

The International Labour Organisation has dedicated many conference discussions to finding a solution, saying that the protection of (all) workers “is at the heart of the ILO’s mandate and all workers, regardless of employment status, should work in conditions of decency and dignity.”

While Labour accepts there are advantages for businesses in different contracting arrangements and for that matter, advantages for some highly skilled workers, these must be balanced against the fundamental rights of fairness and equality.

There is a lot of discussion and thought required on this topic. But in the end, Labour doesn’t believe that it is the Kiwi way for the “law of the jungle” to prevail.

If we fail to regulate the growing incidences of independent and dependent contracting, we expose growing legions of workers to having no rights at all.

And in doing so, we make every other job that relies on the foundations of the employment relationship vulnerable to unacceptable competition.

The migrant worker exploitation morass

Posted by on August 19th, 2012

The exploitation of migrant workers has been in the news over the past week and TV1 has done a good job exposing what I believe is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is a problem not just confined a few migrant owned restaurants.  In the last week, I’ve had contacts from people in the home-care industry, the agricultural industry, the construction industry, the tourism industry and people in trades. While some have been migrants, I’ve heard a lot from other workers and businesses who are saying they simply can’t compete where this kind of blatant law breaking is happening.

It’s not only about paying below minimum wage either.  Burger King, the multinational owned business is being taken to the Employment Authority by Unite Union for alleged union busting and discrimination against migrant workers. There’s a litany of stories like this in the migrant community.

The Minister of Labour has ordered a crackdown. That’s good, but it will take an army of Labour Inspectors that our Department of Labour resources won’t run to, especially as they are currently embroiled in the creation of Steven Joyce’s mega ministry monster, MoBIE.  Someone today told me that they have waited seven months to hear back about a case of clear minimum wage breach for a group of migrant workers who were brave enough to seek help.

No-one knows how deep this morass is. I think stamping this out is going to take some effort from of all of us.  We have to expose the poor treatment of migrants and we have to demand action.

I will be.

Minimum wage bill gathers traction

Posted by on August 1st, 2012

I’ve already put some of the arguments in favour of raising the minimum wage.  Here are a few more:

– A minimum wage of $15 an hour will mean extra earnings of $427 million a year for our lowest paid workers.  Most of that money will be spent on essentials – food, clothing and health-care – and will go straight back into the economy.

– David Parker rightly points out that the minimum wage has to be one families can live on, that rewards hard-work, and that helps stem the flow of thousands of people to Australia where wages are much higher.

– Minimum wage increases have lagged behind productivity increases over last 20 years.  For the health of our communities they need to increase in a sustainable fashion.

– If Government future ambitions for growth are to be realised, the fruits will need to be shared.  My bill helps ensure that is the case.

– Inequalities are growing since National’s 2010 tax package which increased GST, and gave the biggest tax cuts to those already wealthy. These growing inequalities begin to be addressed by my bill.  Women, Māori, Pacific people, youth and part-time workers are more likely to benefit from an increase in the minimum wage.

If you’re new to this debate, Ch9 News in Dunedin has a background piece on my bill. It’s worth a look.

Why the Minimum Wage Needs to Rise

Posted by on July 26th, 2012

I’m stoked that my Mondayising Members Bill has successfully proceeded to select committee.  Members Bills provide the opportunity to pass legislation against the Government.  A sensible idea and sufficient luck mean positive change becomes possible from the opposition benches.

It looks like the heavens are smiling on me.  I have just now heard that I’ve had a second bill drawn.  This time I aim to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour.

I’m convinced that the minimum wage needs to go up sooner rather than later.  There is too much inequality in NZ. The poverty inequality drives is destroying lives and wasting the opportunity to get the best out of our people.  I’ve previously explained how this has come to pass and why it is hurting us.

Critics argue that too high a minimum wage risks growing unemployment.  At some point this is undoubtedly true.  If the minimum wage went up to $30/hour, a bunch of businesses would go under.  That wouldn’t be good.  On the other hand, if the minimum wage is too low, the Government ends up dishing out subsidies to families to keep them out of poverty (or worse, it chooses not to give out subsidies to keep them out of poverty). 

A direct link between minimum wage and employment has never been successfully drawn.  Expect a Nobel Prize for any economist who manages it.  What we do know is that a lot of the rhetoric does not match reality.  National raised the minimum wage just 70 cents in their last 9 years in Government and unemployment soared.  Labour raised it $5 in their last 9 years and towards the end of their time enjoyed the lowest unemployment in the Western World.

A $15/hour minimum wage seems to have consensus in New Zealand as a figure that will not cause unemployment, but comes closer to a living wage. 

Interestingly, a lot of small and medium businesses routinely pay this wage because they know their workers, believe in them and understand how close to the poverty line they live.  It tends to be a few rogue larger firms that screw their workers down to the lowest common denominator. 

The costs of treating poverty related illnesses low-paid workers and their families bear are carried by all of us through the health system too.  So we effectively as taxpayers end up subsidising rogue employers and their bad practices.  This is bad for NZ socially and economically and it needs to stop.

I argue for increases in the minimum wage over time on the basis that it stops bad employers from exploiting low wages as a means of generating wealth.  Instead they have to explore ways of working smarter and increasing productivity. Most employers get this.

But fresh thinking from those who subscribe to a mean understanding of human nature suggest that even they should support minimum wage increases.  Of particular interest to me this week is a recent article written from a very conservative economic perspective that shows why even Act Party acolytes ought to get in behind this change.

Minimum Wage misery

Posted by on February 8th, 2012

The government’s announcement today of a 50 cents an hour increase in the minimum wage has left me feeling both relieved and depressed.

I’m relieved because at least the increase is 50 cents an hour, rather than the miserly 25 cents an hour in last year’s minimum wage increase –  even  if it still leaves a minimum wage worker only 20 cents an hour better off in real terms than they were after National’s first minimum wage increase in April 2009.    

But I’m depressed because of another lost opportunity to do something tangible about soaring income inequality in New Zealand.

The government, despite its crocodile tears and phony concern about poverty and the impact on families and children has ignored what would have been a significant step in addressing income inequality.

But I’m relieved that there is almost a majority in parliament for increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, with Labour, the Greens, Maori Party and NZ First all condemning the government’s short sighted decision today.  The only party that stands in the way of that happening is the one man band ACT  Party – whose only comment today has been to criticise the government’s increase in the new entrant and trainee rate to $10.80 an hour. (Sorry, United Future could be a game changer on this, but don’t hold your breath).

Should be an interesting one to watch.

Yellow Ribbons

Posted by on November 19th, 2011

Today we remember the men and families of Pike River Mine.

Twelve months ago, 29 men went to work in the Pike River Mine and never came home. Their families and community are still waiting for answers. The whole country is.

On the anniversary of their deaths, we join together with the families and the wider West Coast community to commemorate their loss.

Phil Goff says it has been a particularly difficult time for all those affected as they wait to see whether their loved ones can be recovered and it is important that we do everything humanly possible to give them closure.

“I have had the privilege of spending time with some of the families over the past year and I know today will be extremely difficult for them.

“On behalf of Damien O’Connor and all of my Labour colleagues, I would like to pay our respects to all those affected in this time of grief.

“I know the process of the Royal Commission investigating the disaster is a terribly difficult one for all involved. But I hope that it will allow us to learn from what has happened and avoid a tragedy of this nature occurring again.

“On this day, our thoughts and our hearts are with those affected by the terrible loss of the men and the impact it has had on the lives of all those who knew them.”

Two minutes silence at 3.44pm.  Mourn the dead, but together we must resolve to fight for the living so this never happens again.

Comments Off on Yellow Ribbons

Courier Drivers – a small business issue

Posted by on October 9th, 2011

Good piece in the Sunday Star Times today about the reality of working as a Courier Driver.  The impact of cut-throat competition, unfair contracting and a lack of minimum protection for dependent contractors is illustrated well.

Courier drivers are struggling to earn a living wage, with incomes stalled at about the same level as they were 20 years ago, while running costs have exploded. Urgent Couriers’ managing director Steve Bonnici said prices had been slashed due to cut-throat competition, which only intensified during the economic downturn of the past few years. Bonnici said prices have been cut to “ridiculous levels” – and it wasn’t just small, fly-by-night operators doing the cutting. As contractors, drivers had few of the benefits of employees, yet they were still obliged to wear a corporate uniform, work certain hours, apply for annual leave, and work exclusively for one company – as well as providing their own vehicles.

I’ve been on about this for some time now, including calling for SafeRates and better protections for all drivers. My Minimum Wage and Remuneration Bill, which would have provided at least minimum wage protection to these contractors was voted down early in the term of the National Government.

The National government, despite claiming it is the party for small business, has ignored the problems for small business operators like those in the Courier Industry.

“Anecdotal evidence from couriers looking for work indicates some firms are paying less than the minimum wage of $13 an hour. That’s not enough to live on, especially for drivers with families and mortgages”, Bonnici said……

“It’s sad what’s happened to our industry; there are plenty of owner-drivers out there whose revenue before expenses is barely the minimum hourly wage. After they have paid costs out of this revenue they are below the poverty line,” said Paul Holdom, who developed CourierPost Urgent for NZ Post and is now sales manager at Inter City Urgent.

The  industry is now coming around to the view that regulation might work better so that there is protection for small business operators who are totally dependent on one firm for their income.

“Every other industry has the minimum wage. You can’t put an ad in the paper offering employment at $7.50 an hour”, Bonnici says.

I’ve had a lot of contact with courier and other drivers over the last three years. Some of their stories are shocking.

Another piece in today’s SST  gives an insight into what Labour’s policy will include when it is announced on the 18th October.

Karl Anderson, First Union’s representative for transport and logistics in the Northern Region, said legislative protection was coming in Australia and it was the union’s desire to see it here too.

“I don’t think we have a bolter’s show under a Key government, which is ironic, given they say they are the saviours of small businesspeople,” he said.

Sadly, he’s right.

Sleepover bill nearly there

Posted by on September 27th, 2011

Labour supported the “Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill’  tonight to select committee, in a truncated process that will see the bill reported back to the House next week and hopefully finalised.

We’ve been pushing this issue all year and we’re pleased the government has finally reached a settlement with the unions and caregivers.

I want to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the disability support workers and their unions. I’m delighted that years of a dragged out process, including three court cases and the threat of a Supreme Court case is coming to an end.

I’m particularly pleased that the government has seen sense and not tried to legislate the Court decisions away.

Backpay is coming. It’s well deserved. But having said that, I want to acknowledge the generosity of these workers, who through their unions, are accepting a 50% settlement of backpay and a drawn out process toward being paid minimum wage.

The settlement is great.  But the contribution of the workers is even greater.

Something else happened this week

Posted by on September 9th, 2011

With all the excitement around the Rugby World Cup it may have slipped your notice that the long battle by Disability Support workers to be paid minimum wage for “sleepover” shifts looks like it might come to an end by Christmas – if the government gets its act together.

The government, IHC and the unions have reached a compromise deal, which will see the full minimum hourly rate paid for sleepovers by December 2012.

50% of the backpay owed will be paid eight weeks after the government legislates, which will need to happen to enable a variation of the Court’s decision and the very reasonable position taken by the unions of enabling the minimum wage to increase over a period of time.

I’m pleased that after a drawn-out process lasting five years and workers jumping through the hoops and appeals in three Courts, Tony Ryall has finally decided to get the matter settled. I’m also intensely relieved that the government has shelved any idea of amending the Minimum Wage Act to avoid these payments. This would have had an impact on tens of thousands of workers.

The only note of concern is that Minister Ryall is saying legislation won’t be passed before the election.  If that happens, there is no trigger for the backpay to be paid and workers will have to wait a lot longer. There’s no reason settlement legislation can’t happen in the next three sitting weeks.

After all, the government managed to ram through significant changes under urgency that removed rights for a whole category of workers so they could please Warner Bros. They can please the nearly 4,000 workers who have made a claim by getting the legislation through the House asap.  Labour will co-operate with the government so these workers can be paid.

Well done to Service & Food Workers Union and PSA for hanging in there.  You’ve done your members proud.

Labour and the miners

Posted by on August 19th, 2011

Phil Goff got a great reception at the CTU conference this morning.

His speech was inspiring – while it is available on line, you had to be there to really get a sense of how well Labour’s message is going down with workers.

There’s much more to come on savings, skills, jobs, wages and social policy, but today’s announcement was for the miners.

Two days ago, the Minister of Labour announced she was implementing a High Hazards Unit in the Department of Labour which will double from two to four the number of Labour Inspectors in the Mining industry. Everyone is pleased about this, even if it took a lot of pressure to get the Minister to do anything.

But there is more to Mine Safety than having a well-resourced inspectorate. There also need to be strong regulations and worker check inspectors on the job.

Today, Phil announced that we will reinstate check inspectors and model new NZ regulations on Queensland’s mining safety regulations.

Queensland’s regulations are very comprehensive, and the underground section contains provisions for emergencies, rescue and communication, electrical equipment and installations, explosives and explosive power tools, gas monitoring, mechanical, mine design, mining operations, ventilation and working environment. 

Until they were removed by the National government in 1992, check inspectors were democratically-elected miners, responsible solely for the safety of workers with the power, amongst others, to order the immediate withdrawal of miners from a mine or part of a mine that the check inspector deems dangerous. Check inspectors were (and are in Australia) experienced senior miners who have the trust of their fellow workers. Unlike company employed health and safety staff, check inspectors are responsible to the miners, not the company.

This is a great announcement. It was well received today, particularly by the Miner’s Union, the EPMU, who have pushed hard for real change to mine safety in New Zealand.

And before anyone goes there, yes Labour didn’t reverse National’s changes to mine safety. We made significant change to National’s awful Health and Safety laws, but it wasn’t enough. We know that. And that’s why we will do something about it.

The findings of the Royal Commission into the Pike River disaster won’t be released until 2013.  Labour doesn’t believe we should wait until then to take action.

The curious case of the shrinking minimum wage

Posted by on August 4th, 2011

The minimum wage has declined in real terms by $16.80 a week since June 2010 and in just three months since the tiny 25 cents an hour increase in the minimum wage on 1 April this year, half of its value has already been wiped out.

According to statistics provided by the Parliamentary Library ‘Sam’, the minimum wage worker used as an example by the government to justify last year’s tax switch, has now seen his supposed $6.30 a week October 1 “compensatory” tax cut disappear, even factoring in the 25 cents an hour increase this year.

I wasn’t surprised by the Minister’s answers on this question in the house today. I should have pulled her up on the average wage answer, because it’s absolutely irrelevant to the minimum wage. 

But her answer to my last supplementary was particularly revealing, where she said :

“I can add two and two and it makes four”.

It must be all that lawyer’s training paying off.

Is Kate Wilkinson’s job on the line?

Posted by on July 19th, 2011

If not, it should be.

Read this story today on the Commission of inquiry into the Pike River Mine tragedy and you will understand why.

This isn’t new evidence.  There have been questions asked of the Minister, both in the House and in Select Committee about the Minister’s rejection of the 2009 recommendations. Both Damien O’Connor and I have tabled letters from her or her department specifically rejecting a regulatory change to introduce check inspectors, and an improved code of practice for employee participation in the mining sector.

The Minister told the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee just a couple of weeks ago that one of the recommendations she did take up was improving employee participation in mining health and safety. Yet her department confirmed that two and a half years later, they have yet to begin any work on this.  And this is at the same time, the budget for training workplace health and safety representatives has been slashed.

We also asked the Minister asked about the number of mining inspectors. Turns out there are two; one based in Dunedin, and one based in Westport, and they cover the South Island between them, as well as North Island mines.

I’m not demanding perfection here. Mistakes were made. But the thing to do is own up and ensure they never happen again.

Not our Kate. The Minister is now hiding behind the Commission of Inquiry to refuse to answer direct questions in the House.

That’s not good enough.  If the Minister isn’t prepared to do her job, she should resign and let someone else do it who will put the safety of miners first.

Minister Ryall adds salt to the wounds

Posted by on July 19th, 2011

Tony Ryall’s reaction to the rejection of the Government’s offer on the “sleepover case” are at best unfortunate and at worst inflammatory.  He said that :

“Because of a legal technicality they are now wanting to be paid the minimum wage for sleeping….. and retrospectively at that.”

Three Courts have determined that  “sleepovers” are work and entitled to be paid at minimum wage, but apparently Tony Ryall knows better.

He carried on his diatribe by lecturing the unions and the workers about the country borrowing $300 million a week, telling them their claims are unaffordable.

John Ryall, National Secretary of the Service & Food Workers Union describes the “unaffordable” work of these caregivers in this piece in the Dominion Post yesterday.

Overnight, when most New Zealanders are asleep in the comfort of their own homes, these workers provide critical support to members of our communities with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues who live in residential houses. For the staff this may include dealing with challenging behaviour, seizures or vomiting. If they manage to get some sleep, they are on call. It’s demanding, challenging and exhausting work, but our members do it because they care. Their reward is making a difference in the lives of the people they support.

Yet those same disability support workers who are members of the Service and Food Workers Union and PSA receive $34 a sleepover shift of up to nine hours. That’s $3.77 an hour.

The government has offered to pay the minimum wage, but not until 2015.  They’ve offered 25% of the backpay, with Disability Support providers having to find half of the money.

Members of both unions have overwhelmingly rejected the offer and endorsed a union proposal under which workers would receive the minimum wage in six months and half the back pay owed. The unions are being reasonable.  The government is not.

Meanwhile, the Attorney-General has joined IHC in continuing to fight the case in the Court of Appeal.

They’re only putting off the inevitable, but it says a lot about this government’s priorities.

How to win young workers and influence them

Posted by on June 27th, 2011

The ACT Party had costly advertisements in the weekend newspapers telling young workers that ACT supports them so much that they will cut their wages.

“ACTs solution (to youth unemployment) is simple, cost-effective and unobstrusive. Allow youth rates again. That would provide young people many more opportunities to get their foothold on the job ladder.”

If there are all these jobs out there for young people on low wages, who’s doing them at the moment?  Guess who – workers getting higher pay.

So ACT’s answer to youth unemployment is to take jobs from older workers and give them to young workers on lousy pay – just to do them a favour?

It’s a bit like Paula Bennett telling the House that a young worker of 52 years of age is delighted to have a job as a “checkout chick” when she was asked about a bottom line for youth pay.

Spare me.

The Business Codgerati

Posted by on June 26th, 2011

There’s been a lot of flak about Alasdair Thompson’s comments last week (and rightly so). He’s shown the worst side of the business codgerati. Business organisations and right-wing acolytes like Jenny Shipley have been distancing themselves big time. The organisation he heads, the Employers and Manufacturing Association (Northern) is having a Board meeting tomorrow to decide his future.

The Sunday Star Times editorial says today that “it’s reminded us silly we used to be” and how this kind of standard sexism was once standard in New Zealand politics and business…….“it’s so 1950’s.”

The SST goes on to say :

“But we should not be too complacent about this.  If bosses have become more enlightened and workplaces more friendly to women and minorities, in some ways they are more worker-unfriendly than they used to be……  in some ways workers have less power to push for change than they had in the 1950’s.  Some employers think this is fine; they regard unions as obstacles to commercial progress. That is about as crass a stereotype as the one about the skiving menstruators.”

That is so true and well done to the SST for nailing this. While every business organisation now spouts their policies on equal employment opportunity, flexible working hours, work life balance and their opposition to discrimination their prejudices are still there for all to see among many of them.

Every time there’s talk about giving workers more bargaining power or strengthening their rights, the codgerati are out there, saying “it’s a return to the past” or “it’s going to ruin us”.

Witness the reaction to the $15 minimum wage and ACT’s backward looking ideas that youth rates are going to solve youth unemployment.

Still a long way to go.

What a week

Posted by on June 24th, 2011

It’s been a full-on week.  So much happening and so many issues : Ministers in Select Committees, long debates in the House on the Telco Bill, announcements in Christchurch, the Te Tai Tokerau by-election and of course dear Alasdair. Here’s a few extra snippets from question time this week that you may not have picked up.

John Key ruled out implementing the Queensland regulatory standards for mine safety as an interim measure despite mouthing off to an Australian newspaper about Pike River and  family members of Pike River miners calling for increased mine inspection.

Paula Bennett repeated that she thinks any job is a good job, citing the example of ayoung woman, who at 52 years of age was proud to be a checkout chick”, while at the same time revealing she’s up to her neck in the government’s revisiting of youth rates.

Annette King asked the PM why he was prepared to wine, dine, chauffeur, change the law and suck up to Warner Bros to save jobs in the movie industry and now the gambling industry, but but has turned his back on hard-working railway workers who can build wagons and carriages in New Zealand and keep their jobs?  Guess what, no answer.

Kate Wilkinson told Jacinda Ardern that the government has a cogent plan, which when probed, said it was basically about building a stronger economy.  Doh.

Nick Smith told us that training workplace health and safety representatives was a “touchy feely notion”, despite his government expressing concerns about NZ’s high workplace deaths and injuries and saying employee participation in health and safety is critical.

Kate Wilkinson said she was aware that for “those people on the minimum wage we are aware budgeting is tight”, but ruled out increasing the minimum wage calling $15 an hour  “a high minimum wage”.

David Cunliffe asked if the PM thought the public would be pleased to learn that without any mandate, his government has budgeted $6 million to spend before the election on preparing to sell assets.

Oh and I was at a dinner on Monday night where a certain Alasdair Thompson had been invited.  But that’s another story.

Youfs or serfs?

Posted by on June 17th, 2011

There’s been outrage (and rightly so) today at the TV3 piece last night saying that National was planning a youth rate for 15 – 24 year olds.

In just hours, a Facebook page dedicated to fighting the move has gained more than 1,000 supporters.

It’s not that we haven’t had youth rates before.  National had youth rates for all workers under 20 at 60% of the adult minimum wage until Labour became government in 1999. Did they create jobs?  No.

When Labour became Government in 1999, one of their first moves was to abolish youth rates for 18 and 19 year olds and increase the 16 and 17 year old rate to 80% of the adult minimum wage.

Later on, Sue Bradford’s youth minimum wage bill, which effectively abolished the youth minimum wage for 16 and 17 year olds was passed into law with Labour’s voting power behind it.

But we’ve never had “youth” rates (that I am aware of) for workers over 20.  I suspect that the Minister made a blunder in the TV3 piece last night by saying that youth were “15 – 24 year olds”

15 – 24 is a measure used by the UN, the World Bank and several countries to describe “Youth” as a group eligible for special treatment under the law and in society. In New Zealand, the 15 – 24 year old age group is used to measure “youth” unemployment.  It is also used in things like road accident statistics and a range of other measures. But this doesn’t mean this age group are eligible for discrimination in the way that youth rates discriminate.

Paying someone less because of their age, gender, race or sexuality is discrimination under NZ law. We wouldn’t tolerate older workers being paid less, so why is it different for younger workers?

I suspect that the government is really looking at the 16 – 19 year old group for a return to minimum youth wages.  It’s a way to exploit the competitive advantage of a 30% wage differential with Australia that Bill English says is a good thing.

But this would not only be one step backwards to 16 and 17 year old youth rates, but a giant step backwards to last Century when the National Government had 18 and 19 year olds on 60% of the adult minimum wage.

Cutting wages never creates jobs.  We’ve gone there before and now look what a mess we are in with low wages, an increasing skills gap and some of the longest working hours in the OECD.

I despair.