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National makes work rights the defining issue

Written By: - Date published: 1:41 pm, April 21st, 2008 - 31 comments
Categories: election 2008, labour, national, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

workrightsrally.jpgNational’s strategy, the strategy of a weak party, is to present a ‘small target’ by promising to change virtually nothing if they were in government. Problem is, their small target has a great big bull’s-eye on it called work rights.

With flip-flops on health, education, welfare, annual leave, parental leave, assets, Working for Families, Kiwisaver, nuclear ships, student loans, climate change, civil unions, etc, etc already undertaken or to be undertaken before the election, not much remains for National to campaign on as a point of difference with Labour. Tax will be defused as an issue by the cuts in the May Budget coming into effect from October, National will have to accept them and add a pretty meager sweetener of its own.

The one policy area where National has not (and ultimately cannot) follow Labour is work rights and wages. National is the party of employers; lower wages and weaker employment protections are the party’s core reason for existing. Key has already said he ‘would love to see wages drop‘. The only Bill National has ready to pass if it gets into Government is the 90-day no-rights Bill. National has said it would weaken unions and equivocated over whether it would lift the minimum wage if it were government. That’s a stark contrast to Labour, which has brought New Zealanders more annual leave, higher pay, increased minimum wage, better working conditions, more power in the workplace, and record low unemployment. So, in the one area in which National remains strongly differentiated from Labour, its policy is deeply unpopular and Labour has a very strong record.

Work rights is the one issue National absolutely cannot afford to have this election campaign decided on; and it’s the one issue they’ve left open for the campaign to be all about. All that’s needed is for Labour to take the initiative with a visionary work rights policy.


31 comments on “National makes work rights the defining issue”

  1. Stephen 1

    On minimum wage…

    “In a move to distance himself from the views of Dr Brash and shift National’s policy away from the hard right, Mr Key said: “I’m not one of the hardcore, hard right wingers who says ‘get rid of the minimum wage; you don’t need it.’ Some people take that view, I personally think it has a place and I don’t have problems with it rising.””


  2. Monty 2

    National will not go and repeal entirely the current employment legislation, and they have no good reason to (unlike in 1990 when the economy was well in recession thanks to the outgoing Labour Government) but certainly some tinkering around the edges will help make NZmore competitive and take away the trap that employers find themselves in when employing the wrong person for a variety of reasons.

    It is well accepted by the elecrotate that labour will introduce very employee friendly labour law, and national will re-balance that when they get the reigns of power.

    Always remember that no one is forced to work for a bad employer – they can always go and get works elsewhere if the employee does not like it.

    The electorate does understand this, and yet most people are not threatened by it. That is because in most cases employee and employer get on well and each is economically rewarded for their input.

  3. Tane 3


    National Party labour and industrial relations spokeswoman Kate Wilkinson said National did not oppose the minimum wage but preferred tax cuts.

    “Our policy will be on a broader scale and looking at the bigger picture rather than just relying on this artificial solution of having an arbitrary level of what some people think is a fair wage and some people think is not.’


    Sounds to me like National plans to use tax cuts as a substitute for higher wages – effectively using public money to subsidise employers who pay low wages.

    See their record on raising the minimum wage here: http://www.thestandard.org.nz/?p=906

  4. Stephen 4

    On “working for a bad employer”, is that so easy to do in ‘bad times’?

  5. Yep – that’s why he voted against youth rates being abolished. Just like he’s voted against every other piece of pro-worker legislation. He’s just lucky minimum wage rises are not voted on otherwise there would be another clear example of him saying one thing and doing another.

  6. Tane 6

    It is well accepted by the elecrotate that labour will introduce very employee friendly labour law, and national will re-balance that when they get the reigns of power.

    Rebalance? Ha! New Zealand has some of the most right-wing labour law in the industrialised world.

  7. Steve Pierson 7

    Key did question whether the minimum wage be as high as $12 an hour. doesn’t seem like he’ll be gung ho about raising it if he is PM.

    “It is well accepted by the elecrotate that labour will introduce very employee friendly labour law, and national will re-balance that when they get the reigns of power.” – why is ‘re-balancing’ needed? Why would any working new zealander vote for a ‘rebalancing’ of power away from themselves to the bosses?

  8. Scribe 8


    Sounds to me like National plans to use tax cuts as a substitute for higher wages – effectively using public money subsidise employers who pay low wages.

    See, that’s where the Left and the Right differ on taxation. Cutting tax is not using public money to subsidise employers who pay low wages; it’s allowing New Zealanders to keep their OWN money that they’ve worked hard for.

    The Left see wages as something that they can take a (growing) cut from; the Right see wages as something that people should get to keep the vast majority of, with the Government only taking what’s needed to run a country.

  9. Steve Pierson 9

    Scribe. How is a tax cut that lifts after tax wages by 5% (eg a $25 a week cut on an $500 a week net pay packet) going to close the wage gap with Australia? It’s not, but we can’t afford tax cuts larger than than both fiscally and because of inflationary impact. Only rising wages can close the gap.

    And remember, tax cuts aren’t free. any substantial cut has to come out of spending.

  10. Tane 10

    Scribe, you’re misrepresenting my statement and making a rather simplistic conclusion.

    I’m simply interpreting Wilkinson’s words – that instead of requiring employers to pay their workers decently by lifting the minimum wage, National would allow employers to keep paying poverty wages and cut taxes to relieve that wage pressure.

    The removal of regular minimum wage increases and its substitution with tax cuts would have the effect of the taxpayer subsidising employers who pay poverty wages. It’s also unsustainable – once you’ve got low income workers paying 0% tax how do you go about raising their incomes?

    Of course, I’m not against cutting taxes for low income workers, but the minimum wage should rise too – the two things are not the same. One is the amount of money a worker gets for his or her labour; the other is the amount the worker contributes to society for public services.

  11. mike 11

    Bad timing for Labour to start strenthening Empolyment conditions. With the economy tanking Employers will need all the help they can get just to hold on to their staff.
    I think Labour will leave the unions to do their dirty work here.

  12. infused 12

    “Only rising wages can close the gap.”

    Yes, but forcing them up isn’t the way to do it.

  13. Tane 13

    Ideally you’d raise them through intervening in the labour market – that’s what unions are about – and use industry agreements to stop firms competing on wage levels and get them investing in productivity.

    At the lower end though you do need minimum wage legislation to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation.

  14. So if Labour is doing such a good job of keeping workers happy, why have the numbers heading off to Australia consistently increased during the term of the Labour led government ?


    [interest.co.nz is a joke. the guy was attributing the drop in unemployment in NZ to emigration to Australia the other day, as if there wasn’t emigration to Australia in the past and as if we don’t take in more workers through immgration every year than we lose through emigration. SP]

  15. Tane 15

    Because migration to Australia is cyclical.

  16. Scribe 16


    And remember, tax cuts aren’t free. any substantial cut has to come out of spending.

    That’s true IF the country doesn’t have multi-billion dollar surpluses, which we’ve had over the past several years. In that case, a government can do both.

    IMHO, there should be a tax-free window at the bottom end so that all workers benefit and then work done to avoid bracket creep.


    Kate Wilkinson said “Our policy will be on a broader scale and looking at the bigger picture rather than just relying on this artificial solution of having an arbitrary level of what some people think is a fair wage and some people think is not.”(emphasis mine)

    Sounds to me like a “both/and” solution rather than an “either/or” one.

  17. Tane 17

    There’s also the issue of wages – in many industries you can cross the ditch and get a 30-50% pay rise. I’d like to see a plan from both parties showing how they’d close that wage gap – all we’ve seen from National is promises to cut taxes.

  18. Tane 18

    Sounds to me like a “both/and’ solution rather than an “either/or’ one.

    Scribe, that may be the case – it’s hard to get any concrete policy out of National. What we do know is that for low income workers wages will rise slower under National than they did under Labour.

    And if the 1990s is anything to go by, those on or close to the minimum wage may even see their pay cut in real terms.

  19. Tane looking at the post & chart you linked to I notice you only have one (1) complete so-called “cycle” shown. How does that prove that migration is cyclical ?

  20. Scribe 20


    You’re right that it’s hard to get any concrete policy out of National, but history suggests that such a situation is not unusual six or seven months out from an election. Not saying that’s the right thing to do, just saying it’s not something National is the sole offender on (and not saying you’re suggesting that).

    You’re right (again — this is getting boring) that some industries lag way behind Aussie in terms of wages. To use your 2.57pm comment as a model, we can say that “what we do know” is that things have got worse in the last 8.5 years under Labour, so any policy it unveils now would beg the question: “If that’s going to fix the problem, why has it taken eight-and-a-half years to propose it?”

    In fact, that’s a problem Labour (and any third-term government) has on just about any issue of substance.

  21. Steve Pierson 21

    Scribe. it is unusual to have no idea where a party and its leader stand ideologically – specific polices, yes, you can wait for those – but the objection is that National will not even give hints of where it stands on some issues,a nd considering it’s lurched from right to centre to right in the past decade New Zealanders can’t even get a general fix on what the party stands for anymore.

  22. So very boring maw – you’re not here to do anything but offer increasingly desperate challenges are you. How about you get off you fat lazy arse and get your own stats. Then you can make your own graph and if it doesn’t show cyclical migration you can have a well won gloat.

    In the meantime your habit of expecting other people to do the heavy lifting while you snipe at the sidelines is making you look like an intellectual bludger. Have you sense of personal responsibility. Have you no shame?

    If this was my blog I’d’ve kicked you off days ago for being nothing but trolling deadweight…

  23. Tane 23

    mawgxxxxiv: Sorry to be a bit vague on you, but I heard an interview on Radio NZ’s focus on politics a month or so back where a professor basically said the same thing – apparently it’s cyclical going back decades. Feel free to do your own research.

    Scribe: I’ll agree Labour could have done more – they’re a timid bunch if nothing else. That’s why I think we need some concrete policy out of both parties – Labour can’t rest on its laurels, and National shouldn’t be able to get away with soundbites and spin.

    The wage gap has stopped growing though, so I can’t agree that things have got worse, even if they could be done better.

  24. Scribe 24

    The wage gap has stopped growing though, so I can’t agree that things have got worse, even if they could be done better.

    I don’t have evidence to the contrary, but people keep leaving for Australia at a higher rate than ever before.

    Please don’t employ the Dr Cullen “join ’em” retort, Tane 😉

  25. Tane 25

    These stats show a levelling off of the wage gap over the last decade:

    National has put out an alternative one using after-tax wages, but that opens up a whole new can of worms.

    Agreed though, like many of Cullen’s retorts the “join em” one was poorly judged.

  26. Steve Pierson 26

    scribe. it’s not higher than ever before, therein lies the error.

  27. Scribe 27


    Stats from today show that emigration to Oz was 29,900; the highest (recently at least) was 30,000. So you’re correct that it’s not higher than ever before.

    However, the last comparative numbers from Stats NZ say this: “The net outflow to Australia was 29,600 in 2008, compared with 22,200 in the previous year.”

    That’s quite a jump.

  28. K Douglas 28


    “Always remember that no one is forced to work for a bad employer – they can always go and get works elsewhere if the employee does not like it.”

    What about the employee already working for that employer-can he/she just up sticks and go? What happens if that is the only employer in the town that, that employee has the skills to work for? Do you think that employers only turn bad when employment legislation changes?

    Why should employment terms and conditions be reduced when a government changes? As we have seen most of the productivity increases during the 90’s was off the back of workers. Is this fair? I don’t think so. Productivity should come from changes in work processes and technology introduced into workplaces. What is the Nats and even Labours policy on Productivity?

  29. Steve Pierson 29

    I refer you to my new post. As you can see the numbers do jump around

  30. leftie 30

    Any Party can promise to keep putting the minimum wage up, but by how much?
    It can be argued that National put it up in the 90’s, but it’s a fact they put it up a very small amount over a long time.
    Us workers are just starting to get some balance after National’s last “rebalancing” act which saw people lose penal rates and other conditions at work from 1990. What good was National’s tax cut to us then?
    Is this history repeating itself?

  31. Tane thanks for the clarification, excuse my pendantry 🙂

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