Why is it when New Zealand has a supposed rock star economy that the poor continue to take the rap?
For thirty years employers have driven their workers ever harder for the same or similar pay. They have claimed that the productivity increase has been due to technological advances yet, “by coincidence”, the average week has crept from 40 hours to 50 hours plus for many.
In the process overtime has been lost from hours worked outside of the original 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. In fact, often the extra work is unpaid. The latest proposed change in employment laws would have even seen the removal of tea-breaks!
Profits, and they have been large over this time, have gone to shareholders and senior staff at the expense of the regular workers. To make sure that this occurs, successive Governments have allowed the undermining of Union rights and maintained high levels of unemployment so that employers could ride roughshod over their staff.
How often have workers heard the cry of “poverty” from employers to justify another year without a pay increase, at the same time as they announce bumper dividends for their shareholders or big pay rises for a CEO?
When was the last time you walked into a fast food restaurant and received your food in a couple of minutes? You go to counters with multiple serving points but only one person to serve. You see four or five people running around like headless chickens trying to cope with requests of the queues of customers. They are probably working their guts out for a minimum wage, often a minimum youth wage.
You make a call to virtually any organisation’s call centre and after working through an array of buttons to get you to the right area find that ‘your call is important to them’ but please wait (and wait, and wait). I have even come across sites where I am told there are ‘an exceptional number of calls and please call back later’!
You can be sure in both cases that any failures will be put down to “staff not meeting targets” and not the fact that the organisations are grossly understaffed.
Governments not circumstance
Apologists for the current situation are quick to describe the working conditions and disparities a result of technological advances, tight margins, free markets, or greater competition from overseas. Yet there are countries with much smaller income gaps and fuller employment that face exactly the same challenges.
Let us be clear, our unemployment rates, large income gap and our resulting immoral levels of poverty are a direct result of changes in laws made by our Governments since the mid-1980’s.
Misrepresenting the situation
Governments and media are keen to represent the current state of affairs as a result of poor choices or laziness.
Below poverty-line benefit and low wages are apparently designed to encourage people to up-skill and get better jobs. (Even though the Government spends its time pushing for jobs in tourism and the like, which are paid the sub-poverty levels of pay.)
And Governments increase the costs of the up-skilling for the people least able to afford them.
They then encourage the fortunate, who have insecure employment but have to work every hour that God gave them to keep them, to blame the unemployed for being lazy, whilst failing to either provide the economic conditions or employment laws to enable them to find employment.
Change is possible, with the political will
The more egalitarian society that New Zealanders used to hold dear (and would do so now, if provided with the facts) was achieved by Prime-ministers like Richard Seddon and Michael J Savage changing laws.
The same arguments for why it wouldn’t work were used by the rich then, as they are now: the poor will only spend it on booze; employers will go bankrupt; the country will go bankrupt; and there is no incentive to work.
We are told that tax increases to redress the balance of the last 30 year’s excesses would stifle entrepreneur’s creative juices or cause them to flee the country. Yet many of our most prolific entrepreneurs like Gareth Morgan, Stephen Tindall and Dick Hubbard have large philanthropic foundations or schemes to ensure their workers are provided for. These do not sound like the kind of people who would disagree with providing all New Zealanders with the opportunity for a fair go and for fair wages or go into exile if they were asked to contribute towards it.
Without doubt there are people who are very possessive about their Ivory Towers and buried treasures, and are keen to keep the peasants in their place. But like the professional beneficiaries, who screw the system for all they can get without doing a day’s work, they are two extremes at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
New Zealand is a prosperous country. It is a land of plenty with enough for everyone, if our politicians had the will to restore the equilibrium of earlier generations.
– Nick W