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Farmers workers protest today

Written By: - Date published: 10:25 am, November 21st, 2008 - 33 comments
Categories: activism, greens, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

Workers from Farmers stores in the Auckland area will take part in a ‘Skinny Santa’ parade down Queen Street today to protest against their low rates of pay and for a $15 minimum wage.

Most Farmers staff are only paid between $12 and $13.50 an hour and the company’s latest pay offer would give the majority of workers a pay increase of just 20 cents an hour or less.

The parade is being organised by the National Distribution Union and leaves QEII Square at 11.30 am. It will stop to deliver a petition to the Chairman of the Board of Farmers before finishing at Aotea Square.

At the end of the parade Green MP Keith Locke will talk to workers about the Green Party’s policy for a $15 minimum wage.

So if you’re in Auckland today make sure you pop on down and show your support.

What: Skinny Santa Parade
When: 11. 30 am today
Where: Queen Elizabeth Square to Aotea Square

33 comments on “Farmers workers protest today”

  1. Bill 1

    Not sure about the imagery.

    Santa, as Capitalism’s fat man is and will remain fat thanks to the free lunch he is receiving from Governments around the world.

    Underpaid workers are ‘Santa’s helpers’…can’t afford lunch; no ‘freebies’.

    That aside. Good on them.

  2. relic 2

    Gosh, it is going to take a while to bridge the ‘wage gap’ with Australia if Farmers level increases are any indicator.

  3. Bill 3

    On a related topic….http://ndu.org.nz/bus_drivers_locked_out_offering_free_rides.

    The question I have to ask is ‘What the hell were they thinking’?

    If you are not going to take fares, you don’t say that you are not going to take fares!

    You find quasi legitimate excuses as to why you failed to collect fares thereby keeping yourself ‘safe’ from retribution and inflicting a degree of hurt on the employer that the employer only realises has been inflicted after the fact.

    Whereas direct action is definitely the way to go, it involves a degree of ‘boxing clever’ or runs the risk of backfiring as seems to have happened in Hamilton.

  4. Chris G 4

    Good on them too!

    As a part time woolies and pub worker I feel their frustration with stagnating wages.

    Mine has only ever risen from my original contract of $8.50 an hour (Courtesy of the Nats of the 90s) by way of minimum wage increase to the now $12 (Thanks Helen et al.)

    Oh but I did get that fantastic bonus of: After three years service at woolies adds 37 cents per hour to my pay! Umm. Yeah.

    The frustration comes when browsing the Progressive Enterprise magazine which shows profits Skyrocketing each year with all sorts of fancy graphs. Wonder where all that $$$ goes?

  5. Tane 5

    Bill, yeah I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on up there. Though GO Bus certainly seems a little trigger-happy with the lockouts recently, eh?

  6. This provides some insight into why Kiwis are fleeing to Australia. They can’t afford to live here on the low wages they get.

    NACTional aren’t going to be any help there. Quite the contrary. Their policies will increase unemployment to keep downward pressure on wages and conditions……just as they did last time they were in Government.

    I’d be happy to be wrong on that, by the way, but can’t see any that I am, given their stated policies.

    Sure, the rhetoric says higher wages, but the actual policies point the OTHER way.

  7. Chess Player 7

    $15 minimum an hour seems a fair ask, to me, for all workers in any industry.

    They need it more than I need a tax cut.

  8. randal 8

    chess player
    they sure do
    they need the money for food and kids clothes etc
    the tax cut people need it for a new house in the south of france
    so is national going to make employers front up with decent wages or not?

  9. Camryn 9

    Chris G – Great that you’re working, but perhaps you should try out for something higher paying instead of waiting for Woolie’s to follow any minimum wage legislation that may come along? The minimum wage jobs there are fairly simple and hence the low pay… I doubt Woolworth’s considers the pay to be suitable for an adult supporting a family or a mortgage but it’s OK for a teenager or first job seeker and that’s probably who they mostly expect to take the jobs. Prior to the recent bust you could’ve probably moved into construction and named your price. There are still better paying jobs going in farming etc.

  10. Tane 10

    Camryn, low wage workers don’t need lectures, they need better pay.

    The aspirational discourse – “just quit and find a better paying job” – is fine on an individual level – but the fact is that as a society we need people to work our checkouts, to drive our buses, to look after our elderly, to wait our tables.

    The question is, how are we going to treat these people?

  11. Bill 11

    Tane

    The point is that they can afford to be trigger happy. A min wage worker is in no position to survive a stand-off. Knowing that, the unions should be devoting time to developing strategies that nullify the lock-out option.

    I don’t know how the buses run in Hamilton, but right off the top of my head I’d have thought that step one would have been to look at the systems in place around the money and see if they could be monkey wrenched in such a way as to leave drivers with a degree of deniability over non collection of fares.

    If that wasn’t going to be possible, then charge every customer for one zone only ( if the fares are zoned).

    If there are electronic travel cards in operation then look at simple reversible ways that prevent the machines reading the cards.

    And so it goes on.

    I don’t want to be sounding negative, but in this day and age where the playing field is tilted so steeply in the employers favour, workers; their unions have to be smart and act in ways not anticipated by the current employment laws. Otherwise, what with union densities being often very low, they are going to be on a hiding to nothing on far too many occasions.

  12. Chris G 12

    Camryn,

    Im a student so just makin my way through studies… I think its fair to say its tough to find student jobs that pay anything above $13.50 (Thats what I get at woolies)

    Eg. The bar I work at, 90% of the staff are uni students. all getting around $12.50/hr

    “I doubt Woolworth’s considers the pay to be suitable for an adult supporting a family or a mortgage but it’s OK for a teenager or first job seeker and that’s probably who they mostly expect to take the jobs”

    You would be bloody suprised to know who works there. Id say the majority of the workers there are full timers, supporting families, I know that by knowing the people who work there.. Now if woolworths considers that $13/hr is suitable for those people then they are deluded and have some fucked up ethics.

    Combine that with the skyrocketing profits as trumpeted by their magazines that they have the Audacity to throw in the staffrooms of their underpaid workers!!

    Im one of the luckier ones who works at minimum wage level (Or thereabouts) in that I have a safety net of my well-off family to provide for me so that I have the capacity to study and work.

  13. Tane 13

    Bill, agreed. The recent driver lockout in Wellington failed in my opinion because as the city is heavily reliant on public transport to get people to work the halt in services had a major impact on the public and on the running of the city. It was quickly becoming a PR fiasco for GO Wellington, as well as a political issue, and they finally had the sense to back down. The CTU’s announcement they would swing in behind the drivers would have also had a lot to do with it.

    I’m not sure whether the same conditions exist in Hamilton. But I’m willing to withold my judgement on the industrial tactics until I find out more about what’s actually going on.

  14. Camryn 14

    Tane – We do need people doing those minimum wage jobs (which typically don’t include bus drivers or elder-care nurses out of those examples you gave). However, those jobs are unskilled and therefore only suit those without skills… students, teenagers, etc. If you pass 20 or so and don’t have enough skills to get more than the minimum wage then it is an individual problem and not a societal one. Society can get by just fine with the students, teenagers, recent unskilled immigrants, etc (all of whom do typically use the minimum wages as the steeping stones they should be).

  15. Camryn 15

    Chris G – Should say I also worked at a supermarket on minimum when studying. I agree there were a few adults around, but at my supermarket it was mostly mums who had been out of the workforce for ages and just wanted something easy to supplement family income.

  16. Tane 16

    Camryn, a lot of bus drivers are on minimum wage or thereabouts. And as someone who knows a fair few elder care workers I can assure you they are as well.

    There are hundreds of thousands of people living on poverty wages like the workers at Farmers, far more than could ever be staffed by teenagers and students. The reality is we as a society do need full timers to do these jobs, and many of them have families to support.

    These people do important work and our society couldn’t function without them. I think they deserve to be treated with some basic human dignity, and judging by the Farmers protest, so do they. Good on them for demanding some respect.

  17. Camryn 17

    Oh, and that was high school. Would’ve been tough to get through uni without something a little higher paying since I didn’t want to work during semesters and needed to save up all my $$ on holidays… and that’s where I met Lynn.

    [lprent: 🙂 There were a lot of students there at various phases. I think we regarded Auck Uni as our labour source.]

  18. Bill 18

    Camryn

    Food for thought? In a kitchen, the chef is skilled and gets a lot more pay than the dish pig who isn’t. However, without the dish-pig the chef would not be able to perform her/his function.

    There is more to jobs than the skilled/unskilled division.

    There is the unpleasantness of particular jobs and the necessity of particular jobs which are factors among many others that should impact on remuneration.

  19. Sarah 19

    I hate to say this but farmers workers are farmers workers for a reason. They are unskilled. We need to build a skill-based economy. What we should be doing is promoting skill training for these sort of workers, so that they can reach better wages more easily, instead of promoting meaningless wage increases.

  20. LAX 20

    Cool, the Nat’s win the election and the commie unions emerge from their nine year slumber.

    I might head on down, it has been a long time since I have been able to chuck eggs at a trade unionist.

    [Tane: Unite’s Supersizemypay, the EPMU’s FairShare, the NDU’s Progressive campaign, the Nurses’ pay campaign… I could go on. Try to do a bit of research before you mouth off. Also, feel free to go and hurl eggs at low wage workers asking for a better deal – just be sure to wear your National Party rosette.]

  21. Camryn 21

    Supply and demand works pretty well… if there are people who will do a job for a certain rate then those who want more for the same job miss out. I’m all for fair and safe workplace requirements etc to make sure employment costs aren’t trimmed in non-wage ways that would disadvantage or endanger workers but artificial labour pricing won’t work any better than any other articifical pricing. If society wants to provide more, then society should pay the difference… not the employer. Why should it be their concern? Minimum wages essentially force employers to pay for something society wants, or to not hire anyone in the first place.

    NZ has it the right way around on housing assistance, whereas parts of the US (for example) have rent controls that specify maximum rates of rent increase (below inflation) to ensure a mixture of socio-economic strata co-exist within a given city or suburb. This, of course, gives landlords the incentive to never renovate or improve, and try to force out tenants in various other ways. I can’t understand why the entity that wants the diversity (society, through its government) doesn’t pay for it through rental supplements rather than forcing the burden onto single individuals. Totally not cool. NZ sees the light on the housing issue but employs opposite logic on minimum wages.

  22. Tane 22

    Sarah, who’s going to work at Farmers when we’ve upskilled all the Farmers workers into new jobs? And how are we going to pay them? You see the problem with your argument.

    Also, love the phrase “meaningless wage increases.” Try telling someone on $12 an hour a decent pay rise is “meaningless”.

  23. Dave 23

    Well, in my opinion the minimum wage needs to go up in light of prices on necessities rising so rapidly in the last year or so (I don’t have the correct figures, but i’m sure someone can find them) and I agree, paying a crap wage while allowing your employees to see the massive profits that are being reaped is somewhat unethical.

    Lets hope Slippery John can do something about it aye?

  24. Bill 24

    Sarah

    Quality customer service is a skill. One that many people cannot master.

  25. roger nome 25

    Skinny Santa Parade? A weird coincidence from elliott smith’s song “king’s crossing”

    It’s Christmas time, and the needles on the tree
    A skinny Santa is bringing something to me
    His voice is overwhelming, but his speech is slurred
    And I only understand every other word

  26. infused 26

    I really don’t understand this whole minimum wage thing. If you don’t like minimum wage, up skill and get a better job. That’s what most people do.

    Artificial pay increase, yeah that will do a lot for the country.

    I think I can comment on this to, working at Burger King in 2000 getting 7.70 an hour, then factory working, I got 19.00 an hour, then I quit, studied, got a diploma in software engineering and started my own business.

    Now I’m on roughly 55k and I increase my pay every year.

    People have the choice. Very simple.

    [you’re fundamentally misunderstanding the issue, it’s not about the individuals, we need these roles in our economy, the question is how we treat the people who do them. Like Tane, says “who’s going to work at Farmers when we’ve upskilled all the Farmers workers into new jobs? And how are we going to pay them? You see the problem with your argument.” SP]

  27. roger nome 27

    Infused – piss off. The asymmetric bargaining arrangement of free contracting (which we currently have) favors the employer – thus creating market failure, in a social sense because most people see the outcomes as unjust. So most people vote for a minimum wage. Only extremists advocate for the abolition of the min wage.

  28. Phil 28

    Quality customer service is a skill. One that many people cannot master.

    Which is a big part of the reason they’re paid what they are.

  29. bobo 29

    It’s the typical I’m ok, screw everyone else, play off the individual against the individual who do identical work. If we go down the road that some of the righties argue we will end up like India with a sub-class of “untouchables” doing the jobs that society needs to function. What is the big deal with the minimum wage increasing with inflation just as any other commodity does?

  30. Chris G 30

    Well said bobo.

    I think SP put it nicely in his subtext of infuseds rant at 1.04. and in answer to your question of where the fundamental flaw is obvious, I dont think it is to righties.

    There seems to be this line of argument from the righties that we could all become rich by, as comments above suggest: Upskill, get a better job. But there is a huge flaw in that its simply not practical or realistic, as mentioned partly by Tane. The reality is that we cant all be CEO’s and I see that as the inherent flaw in the current capitalist structure.

    Take for example a friend of mine from school. His mother was a nurse but an unregistered one, she had to support 2 teenage boys on her own. My mother who has worked in nursing and health her entire life always suggested to her that she train to be a registered nurse and thus increase her pay – it seemed obvious to an outsider that thats what you’d do.

    The trouble was is that it simply wasnt financially viable for her to lose current pay to study to become a registered nurse. How the hell could she risk forgoing: Mortgage payments, food, bills etc.

    Now its all very well for someone like me in a position of privilege to scoff and say: Oh well she should just find a way! Upskill! Get a better job! or my favourite: Shes the result of Supply and Demand, fair is fair!

    But instead, I take issue with the fact that people get trapped in to that sort of work cycle, and I’d rather help finding a solution. I’d like to think some others out there can stop and consider the many variables that shape us as who we are, but it appears they don’t. case point: whale/DPF blogs , the list goes on.

    Go the Farmers workers, I hope they turned some heads today!

  31. Stephen 31

    So what about say, making sure there are accessible ways to ‘upskill’, without forcing emplyers to comply with semi-arbitrary regulations?

  32. Sarah 32

    Tane, the problem with raising the minimum wage in the manner which you’re proposing is that all the extra costs go straight onto businesses.

    If we as society believe that the minimum wage should increase, then society should justly deal with the reprucussions and consequences of such a decision. I have no problem with subsidising businesses upon raising the minimum wage, but we cannot use businesses just because they are an easy means to pay for higher wages.

  33. Jasper 33

    Fundamentally it’s not about just “increasing the min. wage” it’s all about encouraging business to be able to raise additional capital in order to fund the wage rises, and grow their business.

    Farmars, as most of us should know, is privately owned by some Remuera Schmucks. Of course, in light of falling house prices and increasing rates, how dare they cream their profits to line their pockets to get them through – never mind the staff.

    Whats needed is a system whereby company profits (after outgoings) should be returned back to the staff, and the company is required to raise capital via the sharemarket, private investors etc.
    Simplest terms.

    It’s easy to see why Aussie has a min wage of almost $18 an hour as their companies all get money from the sharemarket to grow. A bit of an upside to compulsory superannuation, which KS is going some way to rectify…

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