Overnight carers have won the right to be paid at least the minimum wage for time when they are not working and free to sleep, as well as when they need to provide care to their charges in the middle of the night. National seems keen to legislate away the basic right that when you’re at work you get minimum wage.
The IHC, funded by the government, faces a $360 million bill in back-pay for years of illegally underpaying its staff. Now, the IHC actually agrees with the workers’ cause but they can’t afford to pay the $50 million per year increase in the ongoing wage bill, let alone the back-pay. If it is forced to pay, it will be insolvent and we can’t have IHC collapsing. So, IHC needs the government to step up.
Clearly the Nats don’t want to pay. When it comes to bailing out rich investors in South Canterbury Finance or buying new limos, their pockets are bottomless. Hell, the carers’ back-pay only amounts to 40% of the tax cuts National has given to the richest 1%. If they wanted, the Nats could simply reverse those tax cuts for a year and pay the workers’ their dues without extra borrowing.
But National doesn’t believe in paying workers their fair wages and they do believe in hand-outs for the rich.
Now, the IHC workers recognise the size of the additional cost and they’re not greedy. They have offered to negotiate several times with the government for some kind of block pay, like firefighters get. But the government has refused.
As with the Hobbit workers, National looks set to legislate to void workers’ rights. The political campaign to justify this is already underway with National mouth-pieces poo-pooing the notion that workers would be “paid to sleep”. Of course, as the Herald points out, they’re not being paid to sleep, they’re being paid to be present at the place of work and ready to carry out duties as and when required:
“He is not in his own home, he is not free to leave, he is responsible all night for the safety of the residents and obliged to see to their needs at any time they arise. His overnight presence is essential to his employer’s business. It should be properly paid.”
And what’s next if National is allowed to take away these workers’ right to pay for time when they are present but not required for their duty? Will retail and supermarket cashiers only to be paid for time when they are serving customers? Will factory workers not get paid if there’s a hold up ahead of them on the production line? Will we all be reduced to piece rates?
If National has its way, that’s exactly the future it will like. It doesn’t believe in the dignity of work or the right of workers to get fair pay to support their families. To them, we are just cogs in the machine that makes the elite rich, and the cheaper the cogs the better.