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John Key’s track record on raising wages – 5. The Minimum Wage

11 November 2012 7 comments

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Continued from: John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers

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5. The Minimum Wage

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From 2004 to 2008, the minimum wage rose from $9 to $12 – an increase of $3 in four years.

From 2009 to 2012, the minimum wage rose from $12 to $13.50 – an increase of $1.50 over three years.

See: Dept of Labour – Previous minimum wage rates

Last year, Labour, the Greens, NZ First, and Mana campaigned to raise the minimum wage to $15 ($16 for Mana).

When a worker at a fast-food outlet asked John Key to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he  rejected the proposal, saying,

It will go up, but it won’t go up straight away.”

See:  Raising minimum wage won’t cost jobs – Treasury

Key’s right. At the glacial speed that National increases the minimum wage, it will take another three years to deliver $15 an hour.

Yet it took only a couple of years to implement two massive taxcuts that gave hundreds, thousands,  of dollars a week, to the top income earners.

Priorities, eh?

The real insult is that  Key and English both admit that the minimum wage is difficult to live on.

Key said,

Look, I think it would be very difficult for anyone to do that.”

See:  Ibid

GUYON:  Okay, can we move backwards in people’s working lives from retirement to work and to wages?  Mr English, is $13 an hour enough to live on?

BILL ENGLISH:  People can live on that for a short time, and that’s why it’s important that they have a sense of opportunity.  It’s like being on a benefit.

GUYON:  What do you mean for a short time?

BILL ENGLISH:  Well, a long time on the minimum wage is pretty damn tough, although our families get Working for Families and guaranteed family income, so families are in a reasonable position.

See: TVNZ’s Q+A: Transcript of Bill English, David Cunliffe interview

The Department of Labour claimed  a rise in the minimum wage  would cost 6,000 jobs.

But Treasury disagreed, saying,

This has not been true in the past. The balance of probabilities is that a higher minimum wage does not cost jobs.”

Raising the minimum wage would certainly benefit SMEs (Small-Medium Enterprises), as low-income earners spend their entire wages on goods and services. Any rise in paying wages should be offset by increasing till-takings with customers spending more.

So it appears blatantly obvious that no good reason exists not to raise the minimum wage.

After all, in 2009 and 2010, National gave away far more in tax cuts for the rich.

And precisely how does this raise wages, as per Dear Leader’s promises?

Next chapter: 6. Youth Rates

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Treasury’s verdict on raising the Minimum Wage? – Part II

19 November 2011 3 comments

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Throughout this election, John Key has been criticising Labour’s policy to increase the minimum wage from $13 to $15 an hour, citing a Department of Labour (DoL) report that such a move would cost the country 6,000 jobs. Key even referred to this in his Leader’s Debates with Phil Goff.

Except… that Treasury has dismissed the DoL’s “claim” by stating that raising the minimum wage “has not been true in the past“.

John Key has been well aware of  Treasury’s debunking of DoL’s “claims”, according to a Official Information Act request made by TV3,

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Full Story

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Unless Treasury has become a  satrap of Socialist International, it seems pretty hard to dismiss their  conclusions. The DoL’s case is not helped by their own contradictions,

“…research from the United Kingdom suggests minimum wages may have no effect on employment, or that minimum wage effects may still exist, but they may be too difficult to detect and/or very small.” Ibid

I believe that the so-called  DoL “report” can be safely dismissed as not very intellectually rigorous.  And not even half clever.

The government claims that recent taxcuts, last year and in 2009, were “fiscally neutral”. But even this is not true.

National’s first round of tax-cuts, which took effect in April 2009, benefitted high income earners the most. Low income earners recieved very little,

The cuts are proportional to wages. Those earning $100,000 or more a year will get at least an extra $24 dollars a week. Anyone on the average income of $48,000 a year will get an extra $18 a week, and low income earners will get a $10 a week tax credit.

On a monthly basis, both tax cuts together will see those earning $100,000 pocketing an extra $225, and low income earners an extra $95 a month.” Source

The October 2010 round of tax cuts were just as bad for low income earners, and generous for high earners,

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Source

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Those on minimum wage recieved an extra $6.36.  Meanwhile someone earning $120,000 benefitted from between $46.08 to $89.04.

With growing inflation reaching a 21 year high, to 5.3%;  increasing ACC charges and rates; any gains made by low income earners and those on social welfare and superannuation were quickly eroded.

Little wonder that the end result was a transfer (“trickle up”) of wealth from the poor and middle classes, to the wealthy.

The report’s 2004 data – the latest available – reveals the richest 10 per cent collectively possess $128 billion in wealth, with median individual wealth of $255,000. In contrast, the poorest 10 per cent collectively possess $17.2b, with median individual wealth of $3200. While the richest 1 per cent held 16.4 per cent of the country’s net wealth, the poorest 50 per cent owned just 5.2 per cent. ” Source

Which, unsurpringly, means we are seeing more headlines like these in our media,

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Full Story

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The Dominion Post article goes on to state,

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows New Zealand’s income inequality climbed dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s after sweeping economic reforms and deregulation of labour markets.

Disparities have plateaued since 2000, largely thanks to Working for Families tax credits, bigger pay packets for middle and low-income earners and declining investment returns for the rich.

But the gap between rich and poor still ranked ninth worst in the developed world in 2008.” Ibid

How well have the top richest done in New Zealand?

About this well,

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Full Story

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The top 150 Rich Listers’ wealth grew by 20%.

That’s quite an achievement during one of the worst recessions in recent history. But even that increase in wealth isn’t sufficient for the Rich Listers. They wanted more,

Jeweller Sir Michael Hill, worth $245 million, told NBR: “Could not the Government give us a little freedom to be able to make common sense decisions for ourselves?”

John McVicar, managing director of a forestry group that puts his family’s worth at $70 million, said economic policy should be based on reducing costs for business and increasing productivity and revenue.

Construction company head Sir Patrick Higgins, worth $100 million, said: “The country needs to address excessive regulation if it is to improve wealth creation.”Ibid

Although at least one  United States think-tank and the “Wall Street Journal”  “rank New Zealand as already having the highest level of freedoms for business in the world.  The Heritage Foundation’s “index of economic freedom” puts New Zealand fourth overall, with a score of 99.9 for business freedom.

Clearly, tax cuts and increases in profits have shifted wealth upwards – not shared it around. Certainly the “trickle down” theory now applies only to meteorological services predicting upcoming rain falls.

This “gushing up” of wealth has been written about in the US “New York Times”. A very simple illustration showed where wealth has been accumulating – and who has been missing out,

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Source

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Interestingly, the great divergence of wealth, productivity, and incomes started around the late 1970s, early 1980s.  It was also about the time that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were elected into office, and began neo-liberal, “free market” policies commonly referred to as “Reaganomics” and “Thatcherism“.

The New Right were ascendent, and implemented their policies with ruthless efficiciency. Those policies benefitted the rich – to the detriment of the unemployed, low-paid, and middle classes (who were too busy fighting each other to notice what was happening to them them).

New Zealand’s turn for a dose of  New Right came only a few years later, when Rogernomics took effect in 1984.

As wealth is accumulated upward (as the NBR so vividly illustrated), the real reason for denying low-paid workers an increase in the minimum  wage becomes more apparent; the rich would be forced to share some of that wealth. Their profits would be a little less.

Of course, this doesn’t stop some from gaining some very substantial wage increases,

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Full Story

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How They’re Paid

PRIME MINISTER New salary (backdated to July 1): $411,510. Was: $400,500.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER New salary: $291,800. Was: $282,500.
CABINET MINISTER New salary: $257,800. Was: $249,100.
MINISTER OUTSIDE CABINET New salary: $217,200. Was: $209,100.
SPEAKER AND OPPOSITION LEADER New salary: $257,800. Was: $249,100.
BACKBENCHERS New salary: $141,800. Was: $134,800.

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So remind me again, why we can’t increase the minimum wage? I’ve heard all the nonsensical, reactionary reasons – but they seem more predicated on a pathological disdain for the poor,  from  uninformed  middle class aspirationists, rather than any clear logic.

If New Zealanders want to continue  down the road of increasing wealth for the rich; growing disparity in incomes;  worsening poverty – this is the correct way to go about it. Our current policies and inequalities will achieve a society where the 1% Haves control most of the wealth; the vast majority remain in poverty or near-poverty; and the middle classes stagnate, blaming those on social welfare (the worst victims of these wretched policies) for their lack of upward mobility.

But the middle classes are looking the wrong way.

This may all sound like extremist left-wing politics. Maybe it is. But I don’t think so. The information I’ve gathered is freely available and easy to gather. The realities are all around us and the media – despite it’s glaring faults and preoccupations with trivia and crime stories – does present us with a view of what’s happening around us.

Many of us just choose not to look.

It’s easier to blame the poor; the unemployed; those of welfare.  And yet, if the current economic situation was not as distorted as it currently is – we wouldn’t have so many poor, unemployed, or on welfare.

An increase of $2 an hour would be a step in the right direction. Just ask the Prime Minister – taxpayers are paying him an extra $11,000 a year.

I wonder if paying all our MPs  those wage increases will result in any job losses?

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It’s a simple matter of choice.

1 September 2011 2 comments

With Labour’s release today, of their youth skills/employment policy, voters are now presented with the clearest choice yet between the two main parties. Aside from the issue of asset sales, where National has announced a programme of part-privatisation, and Labour opposes any/all privatisation, employment policy is the real litmus of both party’s essential core philosopies.

National prefers to step back and allow the “free market” to work it’s magic.

Labour has no hesitation in using the power of the State to address social-economic problems.

The National Business Review – hardly an organ for marxist-leninist groups – was  moved to report on an opinion piece penned by Duncan Garner;

“In a lengthy blog post, Unemployed youth would fill Eden Park, Duncan Garner declares that ‘this government’s biggest failure to date is our young people’.  With 58,000 youth not in work or education, ‘We are at crisis point. 27.6% of those aged 15-24 are out of work and out of luck. It’s even higher for Maori and Pacific youth’. And how has the Government performed on this issue? Garner says ‘there is a yawning gap between Key’s rhetoric and the reality’, and asks, ‘So what did Key do in the weekend to target the problem? Very little’. He suggests that ‘Key needs to be bold, he needs to take risks’.”

Source

In stating that Key had done “very little” to target the problem,  Garner was referring to the Prime Minister’s policy speech at National’s Conference on 13 August.  Indeed, thus far National’s track record at addressing unemployment has consisted of the following;

  • Building a cycleway. Anticipated new jobs: 4,000. Actual new jobs created: 215.  (Source)
  • Hiring an advisor for Finance Minister, Bill English, at $2,000 a day. (Source)
  • A new payment card for 16,17, and some 18 year old beneficiaries that could not be used for things like alcohol or cigarettes; (though it’s already illegal for 16 and 17 year olds to purchase these products)
  • … and… that’s it.

Source

It is worth noting the seriousness of youth unemployment in this country. According to the Department of Labour;

“Youth aged 15–19 years have an unemployment rate over three times that of the entire working-age population. Young workers are more vulnerable to downturns in labour market conditions due to their lower skill levels and lesser work experience. The latest official figures show that 17.2% of youth aged 15 to 19 and 8.4% of those aged 20 to 24 years were unemployed, which represents a deterioration of the trends found in the report. Maori and Pacific youth had significantly higher unemployment rates.”

Source

Ducan Garner seems in no mood to respond to John Key’s “smiles and waves” politics when he opens his piece with this caustic observation;

“58,000. This is the crucial number that should be ringing in John Key’s ears every night he bunks down in the refurbished Premier House.

58,000 young people between the ages of 15-24 are not in education, training or work. The majority of them are on a benefit.”

Garner adds,

“Sure the recession has been tough on young people worldwide. 81 million youths are now unemployed around the globe, it was 71 million before the recession. It is a ticking time bomb. In London, it’s already exploded.”

Source

And there we have it:
  1. Problem: growing, lingering unemployment.
  2. Potential disaster: social unrest, exploding into mass-violence.
  3. Solution – ?
To demonstrate how utterly vacuous National’s policy has been to date, let me juxtapose two media reports  outlining policy releases from both Labour and National.  Have a good look at these;

[click to expand]

Labour would cut dole, increase training

National to clamp down on youth beneficiaries

Which offers new jobs, and which offers tinkering with welfare?

At a time when New Zealand has 170,000 unemployed – of which 58,000 are aged 15-24; when we will be needing thousands of skilled tradespeople to re-build a broken city that has endured massive earthquake devastastion; the current government has done next-to-nothing during its three year tenure.

Except create 215 new jobs in building a cycleway; hire some very expensive advisors; and give tax cuts to some very rich people.

In doing so, we do not have the skilled tradespeople required to re-build Christchurch.  Because we are currently losing around 20 skilled tradespeople a day to overseas destinations such as Australia.  At the same time, people are losing their jobs in Christchurch and unemployment is rising.

To show how badly this government has failed, nothing better illustrates that failure than this;

 

 

Only the most die-hard National/ACT supporter will believe this this situation is acceptable. (And they usually come up with all manner of excuses why it is acceptable.) But I suspect – or at least hope – that ordinary New Zealanders who look at this situation and will ask the inevitable hard questions;

  1. Why are we not offering training for unemployed?
  2. Why are we not planning  to put our people to work?
  3. Why are we hiring workers from overseas?
  4. How will this help unemployed New Zealanders to get back into the workforce?

On the 13 of August, at the National Party Conference,  Prime Minister John Key stated,that “the current system “is not working and needs to change“.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t talking about job creation or training for unemployed. He was talking about not letting 16 and 17 year olds buy booze and ciggies.

Goff says it is ”crazy”to have high youth unemployment alongside a growing skills shortage crisis“.

Which one resonates with you?

Postscript;

 

A bouquet  to Hutt Gas and Plumbing Systems Ltd ,  a Lower Hutt company that is one of the many thousands of small businesses in our communities, quietly ‘beavering’ away in the background,  that make  our economy work.

 

 

Hutt Gas & Plumbing featured on TV1’s evening news where Phil Goff released Labour’s youth skills and employment package.

Hutt Gas & Plumbing train several apprentices, giving young people an opportunity to learn a trade; earn a wage; and contribute to their local community.  These folk are the real pillars of our society. Not the big, flash corporations and financial institutions that shuffle bits of paper around, and make their profits on speculation.

These are the small companies that deserve our support and encouragement. They are the ones that some of our children will rely on for jobs’ training to get into a trade.

Kudos to Labour for planning to increase apprenticeships. This is the hard policy planning that will create jobs and give our kids opportunities.

And a bloody big brickbat for Minister for Tertiary Education Steven Joyce, for  saying that Labour’s proposal was just National policy dressed up,

They’re basically doing what the government is already doing, they just want to throw more money at it.”

It’s rather revealing that National thinks that creating jobs for our young people is  “throwing money”.

Because buying 34 new BMW limousines, for National ministers, is not “throwing money”?