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Pita Sharples Speech: Rally to Support Low Paid

Speech to Public Rally to Support Low Paid Workers

Auckland Town Hall; Sunday 12 February; 2pm

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

In just the first six weeks of this year, there has been devastation, depression and redundancy in New Zealand homes right across the country.

Last week we heard about twelve jobs cut in the mailroom in Invercargill - part of the package New Zealand Post has announced of job losses to occur throughout Aotearoa for an expected 550-650 mail sorters. In Christchurch, GL Bowron has completed 75 job layoffs; and Renaissance Furniture cut another twenty jobs.

We learnt that:

o At the Tapanui sawmill, 35 jobs have gone at Blue Mountain Lumber. H and J Smith are closing their Blenheim and Nelson stores - costing another 54 jobs;

o Nelson Ranger Fishing Company laid off thirty staff just before Christmas, and

o Fonterra is cutting forty jobs at its Clandeboye plant.

In fact more than two hundred sales, warehousing and operations staff have been cut from New Zealand Dairy Foods in the last three months.

Over the straits to the Ngaraunga Gorge, where earlier this week, two hundred members of the Meatworkers Union picketed Taylor Preston.

Up here in South Auckland:

o Jack Links beef jerky manufacturer in Manukau has made 100 workers redundant;

o Fisher and Paykel has cut 65 jobs at its East Tamaki site and

o another whopping 500 redundancies have come from wheel manufacturer Ion Automotive.

64 jobs have gone in Whangarei when Foodstuffs closed, and just this week, Northland’s electricity company, Top Energy, locked its workers out over a pay dispute.

Well times must really be tough - Helen Clark opened the first cabinet meeting for 2006 saying that there’s a bit of a ‘rough patch’ in the economic cycle.

A rough patch!!!

Try telling that to the 19% of the male Maori workers, and the 25% of female Maori workers who earn less than $160 a week. In real terms - that equates to 67,000 Maori who have $22 to get them through each day. $22 won’t even fill up the tank of Rodney Hide’s environmentally-friendly vehicle.

When you combine those incomes with those who earn less than $329 a week, we have 42% of the total Maori working population earning less than $17,000 a year.

Six out of every ten Maori have an annual income of $20,000 or less.

We are here today to say we will stand up the thousands of workers who are forced to live on the current minimum wage of $9.50.

We are here today to stand beside all low paid workers and their families to ask McDonalds, Burger King, and Restaurant Brands KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks to lead the way in making poverty history.

The Golden Arches King will get us all saying ‘I’m lovin it’ if they make the stand to create a better standard of living.

We’re here to share with Burger King corporates that ‘having it your way’ is not about pay checks which barely stretch from one week to the next.

We want to see Colonel Sanders ‘secret recipe’ being one which demands a $12.50 minimum wage, an end to youth rates and secure hours.

We want Pizza Hut’s ‘Crowd Pleaser’ to be their efforts to improve workers’ security and pay.

And we’re here to remind Starbucks of their own bottom-line - putting people before products.

We are here to stand up for those 16 and 17 year olds who are forced to live on $7.60 an hour.

And we are here today to stand up for all those workers, 15 and under, who are being paid “whatever their employer wants to”.

It’s not good enough.

The Maori Party believes we need to all take action in fighting the war against poverty.

We must demand fair pay and conditions.

Conditions which don’t mean you have to Bring your own Teabag - like the workers at Wellington’s Taylor Preston meatworks do.

It’s time to get real people.

Low pay and a sub-standard minimum wage are at the heart of poverty.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that poverty impacts particularly on tangata whenua.

Five years ago, Brian Easton reported that the Maori poverty rate is over fifty percent more than the non-Maori.

18 months ago, Network Waitangi, a Pakeha not-for-profit community group from Whangarei, spoke out against the Foreshore and Seabed Bill by saying:

“We are obliged to register our opposition, to record for history that ordinary Pakeha are now acutely aware of the negative forces of colonisation. We reject the economics of racism, that have created the poverty Maori experience today, and which impact on us all”.

Poverty-wages are increasing the gap between rich and poor and increasing other social inequalities.

The poor are not the creators of poverty, the poor do not have an investment in being poor. If the poor did not create poverty we all need to ask each other, than who did?

When will politicians open their eyes and look around - and see the gaps that we are talking about today.

When will they listen to the words of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen, who reported late last year that

‘the gap in social and economic conditions is actually growing larger and an increasing proportion of Maori are being left behind”.

When will their talk stop perpetuating an attack on ‘lazy beneficiaries’ - those recently redundant workers who are a casualty of the litany of job losses I talked about before?

Both mainstream parties are as bad as each other - their talk is of a rising welfare bill, a need to get tough on beneficiaries - just as they have got tough on crime.

These get tough policies, affect your cousins and my cousins. It is our cousins who are the working poor. It is our cousins who are in poverty. It is our cousins who fill the jails. Let us ask ourselves why that is?

We’re here today to say to Aotearoa - what are we doing to each other? What are we doing to the least powerful in this country?

We’re here today to say stop picking on the poor.

What sort of Government puts in policies which act against the 250,000 poorest children in Aotearoa?

We know that more than one in five children live in low-income families - which is nearly twice the level of the late 1980s.

What do we currently have - a ‘Working for Families’ policy which discriminates against beneficiary parents.

A study of food banks, Hard to Swallow, released just three months ago, made for depressing reading. It told us that sole parents comprise the greatest proportion of foodbank users. They also have the highest incidence of children in poverty.

Those over-represented in foodbank statistics, notably Maori and Pacific Islands women, are also over-represented in low paid work and benefit statistics.

This is nothing new. For many of these clients, real incomes are still way below where they were in 1991. The benefit cuts have not been reversed, nor has the Universal Family benefit been restored.

Poverty is not just confined to offshore countries.

Poverty is happening here. That is why the Maori Party supports the Child Poverty Action Group for their landmark case to bring legal action against the Government over its discriminatory policies.

We will not stand silent to the policy neglect of the poorest and most vulnerable children in Aotearoa.

As Nelson Mandela has reminded us,

“ Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings."

The Maori Party today is calling for all human beings to take action to overcome and eradicate the scourge of poverty from our nation.

We are calling for a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour.

We are calling for a poverty line to be established in Aotearoa and monitor it with living standards assessment each year - so that we are no longer silent about the gaps between the rich and the poor.

We believe that workers rights to decent pay are human rights.

We know that quality employment and productivity emerge from a decent work environment and decent wages.

And we stand for justice for all and we believe that you, the people, can design the solutions to this issue of low wages and poverty and we, of the Maori Party, are prepared to work with you to achieve that goal.

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