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Workers expect big things from budget - union

May 26, 2004

Workers expect big things from budget - union

New Zealand workers expect tomorrow’s Budget to be pay-back time, says the country’s largest union.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little said that working families had borne the brunt of years of economic restructuring.

“The Government has to deliver something into the back pockets of working people,” he said.

“I’m talking about people like the 50-year-old Christchurch storeman who brings home $480 a week and his wife who earns $200 a week,” he said.

“At the moment they get no state assistance at all, yet by the time they pay their rent of $220 a week, put petrol in their car, feed their two teenaged daughters and pay the power bill, they have nothing left.

“Three weeks ago, one of their daughters was critically ill and spent a week in hospital. Naturally, the parents stayed by her bedside, but the man lost a week’s wages and now the family is in dire straits. They are under enormous strain, and don’t know how they are going to be able to afford to send their daughters to university or to save for their retirement.

“This is real life for most working families. Years of claw-backs and low pay increases by employers have left workers worse off than they’ve been in decades.

“This country is demonstrably wealthier, and this wealth must be shared around. If we want healthy and safe families, and a healthy and safe community, then working people must be looked after,” Mr Little said.

Over the past couple of months, the union had held a series of major meetings of delegates around the country, he said.

“The message coming up from the shopfloor is clear: workers expect this government to make a real difference to their lives.”

Other examples of the plight of working people are (these examples are real, and the people are available for interview):

A leading hand in a North Shore manufacturing plant who earns around $39,000 (depending on overtime). With four children aged six to 12, he and his wife struggle to pay the bills.

They’re getting some family assistance now, but are worried that they are not able to put any money aside for emergencies, let alone for their retirement. The Masterton mill worker who earns $30,000 a year if he works overtime. He and his wife have four children aged between five and 16.

When the car breaks they can’t afford to fix it, and the registration is a month behind. It breaks his heart to tell his children that they can’t have little treats in their school lunches. “I work overtime to try and get a bit of extra money, but it just goes nowhere,” he says. The family receives limited family assistance now.

The Onehunga couple who both work part-time in airline passenger services, bringing home around $650 a week between them. With a mortgage of $860 a fortnight, and two preschool children to feed and clothe, “luxuries” like hair cuts are off the agenda (“I went three years without a haircut,” the woman says), and whenever anything breaks down they have to find someone willing to fix it in return for a home-cooked dinner. They can’t afford childcare fees, so when the parents are at work, the children are looked after by the woman’s 75-year-old mother, who lives with them.

They have access to a work-based superannuation scheme, but can’t afford to belong. The Wellington furniture manufacturing worker who earns around $30,000 a year, and his wife who earns around $8000 a year working part-time in a supermarket. They have a year-old baby girl and a mortgage, and currently get no state assistance, and don’t know how families with three or four children cope.

“We’re better off than a lot of people, but it’s hard,” he says. The Porirua widow trying to support five children on the $34,000 she earns in an administration job. With rates, power, doctors’ bills, school uniforms, school fees of $900 a year, and a grocery bill of $150 a week, she’s struggling to find the money to pay the mortgage and maintain the house.

“It needs renovating,” she says. “The timber is rotting, and it gets colder every winter, and the mortgage is getting behind because I keep having to suspend the payments to pay for urgent things. I thought that to gain employment would help, but it just adds to the costs, like petrol, car maintenance and after-school care for the kids.” Her 18-year-old daughter wants to do a management diploma, but has left school and is working in a supermarket to help pay the bills.


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