For those of you who’ve missed it Colin Espiner is back on the NZ interwebz with a new Stuff blog, the (rather earthily titled) Bull-Dust. Colin was a bit of a pioneer of journalist blogging in New Zealand. He was, I believe, the first Gallery journalist to run a proper blog and certainly the first to get in amongst it in the comments sections. That was back in 2007 – the same year the Standard started up and about the time political blogging in NZ really started to mark its mark on politics here. It’s bloody good to see him back.
Anyway, Colin’s latest blog looks at the living wage and how to get there. He’s not that keen on the minimum wage but his five top ideas show he’s clearly in favour of the government intervening:
1. Reintroduce public works schemes. A dirty word since the 90s, but as a short-term measure to mop up unemployment, why not? Real jobs at market wages, not the dole. Christchurch is crying out for labour. Why are we importing workers from Ireland?
2. Overhaul Work and Income New Zealand. WINZ isn’t, er, working. Everyone knows it’s a dysfunctional government agency. It seems to me this organisation doesn’t help people back into the workforce it actually traps them in a cycle of dependency. Why not fund private recruitment companies who actually know the market, and get them to do it properly.
3. More apprenticeships and training: I know, National has rediscovered this just recently. But take the current number of promised apprentices and double it. No, triple it.
4. Phase out Working for Familes income top-ups. They simply allow employers to get away with paying third-world wages.
5. Lead by example: Pay all government workers and those who work in government offices a minimum of $19 an hour.
There’s not much on that list I’d disagree with apart from maybe number two – I think that the real issue with WINZ is that a large part of their recruitment is already defacto outsourced – mostly to labour hire companies that keep workers in low paid casual work while taking a massive cut of their hourly charge out rate. If it were up to me WINZ would run a labour hire arm that paid workers the full charge-out rate, offered better integration with casual work and benefits, and leveraged more of these jobs into full-time work.
The other glaring omission from Colin’s list is a wage setting system such as an award system that allowed workers from across industries to bargain with employers across industries to set minimum rates – they’ve got one of these in Aussie and we used to have one and what they do is ensure employers can’t compete primarily on wages costs (a situation that has seen wages here crash and businesses fail to invest and innovate).
That said, it’s good to see a mainstream journalist breaking with the free market consensus around labour issues that’s dominated the discourse in NZ for the last thirty years. Welcome back Colin!