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Govt set to deny low-paid workers basic rights

Written By: - Date published: 1:30 pm, March 4th, 2009 - 24 comments
Categories: national/act government, wages, workers' rights - Tags: ,

The National government couldn’t hold off democracy forever, so today we are graced with the first members’ day of the new term.

And if we had a pro-worker majority in the House, today would be day of celebration. Labour MP Darien Fenton’s Minimum Wage and Remuneration Bill is up, which would go towards ensuring all Kiwis are at least entitled to a basic minimum wage.

In a nutshell, the bill would make sure vulnerable workers can’t be exploited by employers and paid below minimum wage by classing them as ‘contractors’. And, according to Fenton’s press release, it would also pave the way towards a $15 minimum wage.

Unfortunately the bill looks set to be defeated at the committee stage by a National government that doesn’t care if mums and dads lose their jobs in the recession and are forced to contract themselves out at $4 an hour to make a living.

But then, National’s concern for workers was never more than rhetoric anyway.

24 comments on “Govt set to deny low-paid workers basic rights ”

  1. gingercrush 1

    Blah answer. But of course, Labour could have enacted such changes before the end of their third term. But of course, the issue around the minimum wage became relevant only during election time last year. And indeed, had they Labour got back in.The only wage increase this year would have been from $12.00 to $12.66. Just 16 cents more than National.

    While Labour certainly increased the minimum wage more than National ever did. Surely one of the biggest disappointments from those on the left is that Labour had nine years in office and yet workers were never that better off.

    (Yes I know this is a members bill, but I don’t actually believe for a minute this is Fenton’s doing. But rather action being taken by the Labour party as a whole).

  2. Graeme 2

    If this bill is that important to Labour, why didn’t the Government adopt it and pass it prior to the election – as they did with other member’s bills?

    • Ianmac 2.1

      And I think that Labour saw that the Min Wages had to be developed slowly to prevent distortions. Now the intent seems to be to slow the process if not bypass Min Wage altogether: hence contract wages.

  3. vinsin 3

    Hmm, well workers’ didn’t have a 90 day fire at will bill hanging over their heads – that’s just off the top of my head and i’m sure there are many more examples of workers being better off under Labour.

    • gingercrush 3.1

      Well I would think vinsin. That regardless of your opinion on the 90 day bill. That it isn’t the same as issues concerning the minimum wage? But please do list me what wonderful things Labour did for workers compared to National. Because outside of the typical ideological issues around Unions, there isn’t much.

      • Felix 3.1.1


        Fullstops go at the end of a frickin sentence. Sort it out.

      • vinsin 3.1.2

        Ok, Labour raised the minimum wage from $7.00 to $12.00, twenty hours of free childcare, paid paternal leave and they also raised the average wage from around $18.00 to around $24.00 per hour. They also put into place numerous training programs for those unfortunate enough to be on the dole.

        Want more?

        • Matthew Pilott

          Vinsin – add four weeks of annual leave, legal minimum break requirements (since they were not enshrined in law although virtually there due to union collective negotiating) and breastfeeding at work legislation.

          Maybe they’re taken for granted, GC, but that doesn’t mean Labour didn’t make them happen.

  4. vto 4

    So let me get this right… If a contractor on a job fails to make the equivalent of $12.50 per hour (min wage) then that contractor is entitled to go back and receive that min wage?

    Lordy that will have some massive impact on contracting right througout the economy.

    Sounds good for the contractor in many ways but one effect will be loading a certain level of risk in contracting to the contracting party (whereas it now sits with the contractor). This will, as always, result in costs of things rising to accommodate that extra risk. But I guess conversely, lowering the cost of the contractor as the contractor’s risk is lessened.

    Then there will be the issue of establishing whether min wage has been achieved, not to mention the cost and risk of recovery.

  5. Graeme, I expected that angle from the weakminded righties but not you. Just because Labour didn’t get around to it (or perhaps wrongly had other priorities) doesn’t mean it’s not a good law. We can play ‘well, you should’ve done X ages ago’ games forever but the only question that matters now is whether the Bill that is before the house now ought to be passed or not.

    • Graeme 5.1

      I wasn’t saying it was poor law. I think it is good law. The bit about raising the minimum wage to $15 is more arguable, but the contractor bit – particularly where circumscribed as now proposed – is eminently sensible.

      I’m not saying this shouldn’t be passed, I’m taking issue your conclusion that it is “National’s concern for workers was never more than rhetoric anyway” when that charge could perhaps be leveled at Labour as well (if for different reasons).

      Labour knew they had a good chance of not forming the next government, and knew that National had opposed this bill. Instead of passing this law in their last days, they chose to pass/get through first reading a bunch of other pieces of law, seemingly having performed the calculus that if they lost, it would be better to have something to show people that National didn’t care about workers, than to actually do something to stop it.

      Labour asked the question: which is more important to us, ensuring that contractors get paid a fair wage, or scoring a political point over National? They chose the latter and if this doesn’t become law it is on both their houses.

      • Darien Fenton 5.1.1


        To clarify : The Labour government would have made my bill a priority if we had the numbers. We only had the support of the Maori Party and the Greens and Taito Phillip Field. Taito pulled his support for the bill around seven months before the election. Therefore, the numbers were not there.

        I am glad you think it is worth doing – and actually, it is all my work. I put the bill in the ballot in 2005, it had its first reading in 2006, the Select Committee reported back in September 2007 and it had its second reading in May 2008.

        So this isn’t about political point scoring – it’s a last ditch attempt to get fairness for low paid contract workers – and it is an issue I feel very strongly about. However, National have confirmed they will not be supporting it.

        Darien Fenton

        • Graeme

          Darien – thank you for that information. I was very surprised at the time that Labour wasn’t adopting the bill – the numbers were close, but I figured you’d have has enough to pass it. I came up with an explanation, but you’ve just provided the simpler one (that therefore makes more sense).

  6. Julie 6

    Thanks for writing about this Eddie, Idiot/Savant has as well and I wrote about Fenton’s member’s bill before the SOP was added. It will be a very interesting test of National indeed – are they as purple as they claim? Or are they all yellow on the inside, like a passionfruit?

  7. Billy 7

    Why is this law necessary? As I understand the law, it doesn’t matter what your agreement says, if the real nature of the relationship is one of employer and employee then that’s what it’ll be.

    If a worker is truly vulnerable it is hard to see how he or she could be in a position where it could be said that the relationship was not really an employment relationship.

    • triangular work arrangements.

      Increasingly labour hire companies will only take on people as ‘contractors’, the labourer has no choice in the matter. Labour hire companies do this because it gives them (and the ultimate employer) the ability to circumvent the minimum wage and to take on staff then get rid of them instantly.

      I think there’s some confusion because the term contractor is misunderstood (or, rather, it covers very different groups of workers) we’re not talking about builders and consultants here.

      • Billy 7.1.1

        Yeah but a joe turning up to hire his labour out must fall on the employee side of the control and integration tests and the fundamental test. Fucked if I know what you’re worried about.

        It’s like terrorist specific legislation: unnecessary. We already have perfectly workable legislation. Just use it.

        • Steve Pierson

          bro. I’m talking from personal experience. read about it here: http://www.thestandard.org.nz/on-the-distribution-of-income/

          I’m sure many of the other commentors have similiar stories.

          you don’t really think a person with little work experience (ie George, below) or someone with no skills, or someone just desperate to work is really in a position to complain that they should be employed properly, not as a contractor?

          • Billy

            Damn this reply function and its time meddling.

            You have legislation which addresses the problem. If you are saying that the legislation doesn’t work because of a power imbalance then more legislation is hardly going to fix that problem, is it? ‘Cause, you know, it’ll suffer from the same limitation.

    • George Darroch 7.2

      Because that isn’t how it is in many cases. For example, I was employed by Pizza Hut as a contractor (delivery driver) at 17, when the relationship bore little resemblance to what we normally think of as contracting. They also got out of most of the things they would have to provide as an employer, and on a bad night I earned next to nothing. Since I didn’t need the money it wasn’t terrible, but if I was dependent on it I think I’d have a different opinion.

  8. Billy 8


    Follow the link and read the case.

    George, when were you 17? Some time ago I am guessing. One of the explicit goals of Margaret Wilson’s 2000 Act was to address this. Surely you guys aren’t suggesting she’s incompetent.

  9. Matt Holland 9

    “It’s like terrorist specific legislation: unnecessary. We already have perfectly workable legislation. Just use it.”
    “You have legislation which addresses the problem. If you are saying that the legislation doesn’t work because of a power imbalance then more legislation is hardly going to fix that problem, is it?”

    For a minute there I thought you were referring to the fire at will bill…. Silly me.

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