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Pita Sharples: Minimum Wage Amendment Bill

Minimum Wage and Remuneration Amendment Bill

Dr Pita Sharples,

Employment Spokesperson for the Maori Party

21 May 2008

A report hit the headlines yesterday which should be compulsory reading alongside this Bill.

TheGrowing Painsreport described an ‘under-class’of New Zealanders – those who constituted the highest unemployed in every age group, those who are disproportionately more likely to be in the lower income bands, people whose medium income is a shattering 78% of the total population.

This Bill, theMinimum Wage and Remuneration Bill, describes such workers as likely to be working in forestry, construction, courier services, transport, labour hire, personal care, pamphlet deliveries and other industries. Sectors where the contract workforce is regularly exploited through unfair contracting.

TheGrowing Painsreport gave this group a name – Pacific.

Pasifika communities were described as more heavily represented in the less specialised, lower skilled occupational groups.

The report’s author summed it up by suggesting that the Pacific Island population is less productive and less likely to contribute to economic growth.

Mr Speaker, it may be a surprise to some but tangata whenua share more than whakapapa alone with our Pasifika whanaunga.

Our employment and income position bears a close resemblance to that profiled inGrowing Pains.

Indeed when we look at average earnings, while European are on $20.91 an hour, Pacific peoples sit at $16.31 with tangata whenua barely earning a dollar more.

This Bill sets to amend the Minimum Wage Act 1983 to apply to people under a “contract for services” to ensure they’re at least remunerated at the minimum wage.

We in the Maori Party believe that all forms of employment should be subject to minimum wage protection so that all workers are at least paid the minimum wage.

What is more, we would go further and we suggest that the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.

We tautoko the call issued by the Combined Trade Union, the CTU, that the minimum wage should be lifted to at least two thirds of the average wage – which we suggest is $15 an hour.

The CTU had some very inspiring messages that if we are really dedicated in our pursuit of economic transformation, low wages can not be tolerated.

As we approach Budget Day, it is blatantly apparent that despite all the crowing about the so-called high-income, high-skilled, highly productive economy, an undesirably large proportion of New Zealanders earn a lower income than what we would expect.

We call these people Pacific. We call them Maori. We call them contractors.

What is more, we are also very aware that wage inequality is growing.

Take for instance the salary of the average Chief Executive.

In 2000, a CEO could expect to earn eight times the pay of the average worker. By 2006, that pay packet was a whopping 19 times as big as the average worker.

Whereas, what my colleague Hone Harawira refers to as the lumpen proletariat – the cleaners, caregivers, call centre workers, teacher aides, hospital aides, clerical workers and workers in the retail and hospitality industries – are all struggling to cope on bare to minimum wage.

Is it little wonder that theElectoral Enrolment Centre announced yesterday that the number of New Zealanders who have left our shores for overseas is 35% higher than before the last election?

And in particular, we recognise the impact of the net outflow of people to Australia at 30,600 for the year ended April.

What is there to stay for when so many New Zealanders are being subjected to the economic violence that we call low rates of pay?

Even lower than low, are those people engaged as contractors who are treated to few of the protections of employees and who are paid at a rate which is less than the minimum wage.

The workers who form the focus of this Bill are perhaps the most vulnerable of all workers. They are not covered by the Employment Relations Act nor the Minimum Wage Act.

Their rights, if you can call them that, are wrapped up in commercial law – their relationship deemed to be a commercial one and without any provision for minimum remuneration.

Those in this House whose stock response to policy dilemmas like those in this Bill is to say that the market always provides, will no doubt say that contract workers are still able to benefit from employment law if they take their case to Court.

And sure they can, that’s if they have sufficient resources to pay legal fees to do so. Yeah right.

This Bill is at its very essence about the application of core principles and kaupapa.

It is about promoting and supporting full and meaningful employment.

It is about supporting pay and employment equity legislation.

It is about supporting the development of a user friendly minimum code of employment conditions.

It is about being worker friendly, rather than in perpetuating discriminatory practices. Paying lower minimum wages to one group of workers undermines the principles of non-discrimination and is simply not justifiable.

Supporting this Bill is in effect, providing support of international human rights instruments such as the International Bill of Rights.

This Bill is about nothing more threatening than the well worn catchphrase – equal work for equal pay. The Bill provides us all with an opportunity to support the right of all workers to receive fair and non-discriminatory remuneration for work of equal value.

Mr Speaker, we have had enough of analysts and economists telling us that systemic inequalities and ongoing disparities are merely the growing pains of an evolving nation.

We say instead that a truly maturing nation would set minimum benchmarks around remuneration, whether or not those employed are on contracts for services, contact of services or as employees.

Such an expectation is of course fuelled by the unanimous agreement around the House last night, when all parties confirmed support for some basic protections to exist for all new Members of Parliament.

As they say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

We are happy to support this Bill in our desire for protections to be put in place to ensure the Minimum Wage Act 1983 actually has the teeth to mean something to any person working under a contract for services.


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