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Minimum Wage and Remuneration Amendment Bill

Minimum Wage and Remuneration Amendment Bill

Hone Harawira, Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tokerau

Finance Spokesperson for the Maori Party

Wednesday 23 August 2006

Tena koe Madam Speaker. Kia ora tatou te whare.

Madam Speaker, there has been a lot of debate in the media about whether we can afford to increase the minimum wage.

Earlier this year we saw a big debate over Sue Bradford’s Bill to amend the Minimum Wage Order to stop employers setting lowly youth rates, and now we have this Bill to amend the Act to ensure that contractors are also covered.

And the question is how much will it cost? Can we afford it? In fact though, the real question is, can we afford not to.

The minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, and the minimum youth wage is $8.20. That is simply not enough.

Just a couple of weeks back, while the House was in recess, government tabled the Social Report 2006, which showed what we’ve been saying for yonks; that the number of poor people in this country has nearly doubled in only six years [the proportion of the population with low incomes shows that 19% were living below the 60% threshold in 2004, compared with 12% in 1988], and that those experiencing severe hardship has greatly increased as well.

The same report also pointed out the fact that poor people spending more than 30% of their income on housing, has more than doubled over that same period.

And it’s not just about the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer either.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that those who are suffering are those living in Mangere and Northcote rather than Remuera and Takapuna.

In fact, the New Zealand Income Survey shows that the average income for Maori is $471 per week compared to $598 for non-Maori - $127 difference a week, between what Maori and non-Maori get.

Madam Speaker, our history as the lowest paid group in the workforce and the problems that result from that poverty, are the reason why on many, many occasions in this House, we have condemned low rates of pay as a form of economic violence.

It was with that knowledge that we went into last years elections, with a bid to raise the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour, because when you feed the worker, you feed the whanau, you nurture the well-being and the safety of children, and you offer hope for their future.

And yet Madam Speaker, this is not just a call from the Maori Party.

In a country that likes to pride itself on its growth, it is to our enduring shame that we can even have an organisation called the Child Poverty Action Group and yet we do, and they have also supported the call for a rise in the minimum wage, “for our poorest children’s life chances to improve”.

The key aim of the fast-food workers campaign, is to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Unions have been pushing for it for years, and so have the Greens, so we are in good company in supporting this Bill today.

There are many in forestry, construction, courier services, transport, labour hire, delivering pamphlets and other such services - who may be exploited through unfair contracting, so the changes proposed by Darien Fenton to ensure that contractors must be paid a minimum wage, are a positive move for both youth and adult workers.

But one word of caution for the Select Committee … we note the results of a major study carried out by Gail Pacheco, a senior economics lecturer at AUT who has suggested that Māori and Pasifika would be the ones most adversely affected, by a rise in the minimum wage.

In her study, she noted that Maori and Pasifika made up more than 20% of low-income workers, and that if the minimum wage was approved, it would be they who got the sack first if employers were forced to lay off staff.

How sad is that? but unfortunately … how true as well.

The Maori Party supports this Bill because it is part of our campaign against the wages of poverty and the deprivation that poor people suffer, but we caution against any move that might further jeopardise the standing of the workers in Brotown.

Kia ora koutou katoa

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