Written By: - Date published: 11:57 am, July 21st, 2013 - 7 comments
Categories: class war, Economy, employment, health and safety, minimum wage, Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags: helen kelly, living wage
In the United Kingdom as in New Zealand there is a developing debate about the need for a living wage. The Guardian has reported that the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has condemned the low wages of millions of Britons as a “national scandal” and said that businesses have ignored a moral duty to ensure that all employees are paid enough to live on.
In comments that match the debate that has occurred in New Zealand he states that it is both morally and economically wrong for government to give tacit approval to an approach that lands the state with a huge bill to top up the incomes of the lowest earners.
“The holes in millions of pay cheques are being plugged by in-work support to the tune of £4bn a year. But why aren’t those who are profiting from their workers paying up? Why is government having to subsidise businesses who don’t pay their employees enough to live on? It is a question we need to answer and act on – fast. The cost of living is rising but wages are not. In the rush for profit, and for high pay at the top, too many companies have forgotten the basic moral imperative that employees be paid enough to live on.”
And why are companies unable to pay a living wage? It seems locally that there is a race to the bottom and adoption of a brutal economic system where cheapest is best and health and safety concerns are irrelevant. This week another forestry worker lost his life while on the job. The Masala chain of restaurants in Auckland has been accused of widespread abuse of underpaid immigrant workers. There is ongoing concern at the use of migrant workers on farms. And a local fishing company has required the understanding of the Russian language in a locally advertised job application even though the ship is to fish in New Zealand waters.
The Government is doing its best to make things worse. As Helen Kelly has said “life is hard enough for many Kiwis at the moment. One of the main problems is that wages are just too low. But the government continues to push through laws that will make it worse for workers. That is why we are strongly opposing recently proposed employment law changes.”
Clearly the Trade Union movement poses a threat to these developments and must be undermined at all costs. The Employment Relations Amendment Bill is the Government’s latest attempt to do this. But embarrassingly for the Government a recently released Cabinet Paper states that it is likely that the bill breaches International Labour Organisation conventions. The paper records that the 60 day grace period following failed negotiations during which no further negotiations can be initiated is likely to be a breach of the ILO convention supporting collective bargaining. Because strike action would be prohibited during this time the paper states that the bill is likely to be also seen as inconsistent with ILO conventions on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise.
Simon Bridges thought that the breaches “may not be significant”. It is bizarre that a right wing politician who worships the rule of law thinks that breaches of legal obligations can be trivialised in such a way.
Whatever the status of the proposed law changes it appears to be more and more likely that the claim that John Key would love to see wages drop is true.