In the Bay Report in December 2007, John Key was quoted as saying “we would love to see wages drop“. Inexplicably, the media at the time refused to accept the report of their small town colleague. Instead, they accepted Key’s various, contradictory excuses – ‘I was misquoted’, ‘I was joking’, ‘I was talking about Australian wages (as if that’s somehow OK)’. One political editor went so far as to say that Key couldn’t have said that he wanted to see wages drop because “obviously he has no control over wages” .
Well, Colin, watch closely and you’ll see the control he has.
Usually, the Government recieves submissions on the minimum wage at the end of each year and announces its decision on any increase before Christmas, with the increase coming into force on April 1 the next year. (for those of you who enjoy feeling your stomach churn, you can read all of Business New Zealand’s submissions on minimum wage over the years here – rich men dancing on the head of a pin so they won’t have to pay their poorest workers more). Both in 1984 and 1999, the new Labour Governments brought in the increases immediately as one of their first acts in government to set about redressing National’s policy of letting the minimum wage be eroded by inflation.
National/ACT has just got around to looking at the minimum wage now. A source tells me that the Labour Department recommended an increase from the current $12 an hour to $12.50 – that would maintain the purchasing power of the minimum wage but not increase it – but National’s Labour Minister, Kate Wilinson, has decided to ignore that advice and, this week or next, will be submitting a paper to Cabinet with no increase in the minimum wage. Cabinet, doubtless, will endorse that proposal. No minimum wage rise, means lower standards of living for all those who earn it (and all those who earn slightly above it) and their families.
Now, come April1, I don’t expect to see headlines saying ‘Key makes wages drop for 500,000 lowest paid workers’. After all, news is about action – a minister striding in to break up a fight , a PM breaking his arm – not failure to act, even if the omission affects hundreds of thousands of families (let’s face it, they’re not the ones buying papers anyway). But, for those with eyes to see, we’ll have yet more proof that Key was completely serious when he said he would love to see wages drop.
And, no, he wasn’t talking about Australian wages. He was talking about yours.