Archive | February, 2014

The politics behind the minimum wage rise

24 Feb

By Mike Treen
National Director, Unite Union

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

The government decision to increase the minimum wage by 50 cents was an interesting decision on a number of levels.

$14.25 is clearly not enough to live on – especially given that minimum wage workers often also work in industries that have no guaranteed hours week to week.

An immediate increase to $15 an hour and then a staged increase over the next few years to the CTU target of 66% of the average wage would have been more reasonable and done something to put a dent into the gross inequality and low wage culture that operates in this country.

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69% of Kiwis back $15 or more minimum wage – poll

24 Feb

(From One News TVNZ)

The adult minimum wage is going up to $14.25 – but a poll shows nearly half of Kiwis want it raised to $15.

The current rate of $13.75 an hour will be increased 50 cents from April 1, meaning a rise for around 100,000 New Zealanders who earn the minimum wage.

The training start out wage rate for young newcomers to the workforce also increases from $11 to $11.40 an hour.

The first ONE News Colmar Brunton poll this year asked New Zealanders whether they support increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Forty-six percent said “yes”, 23% supported more than $15 an hour and 16% support a rise of less than $15.

Prime Minister John Key argues increasing the minimum rate higher than $14.50 would mean job losses.

“The bottom line message is we’re trying to balance the capacity for businesses to pay a bit more and for people to earn enough to live,” Mr Key says.

Labour renews $15 promise

The Government’s increase puts it within striking distance of Labour’s $15 election promise.

“In our first hundred days we will lift it to $15 and we will move it again within our first year,” said Labour leader David Cunliffe.

Business leaders are comfortable with the minimum wage increase, which is above the rate of inflation.

Employers and Manufacturers Association CEO Kim Campbell says the increase is a lot less than “the silly numbers we’ve heard bandied about” for a living wage which would mean a $5-an-hour rise.

“It is coming in small increments, so industry will probably be able to cope with it,” he says.

But living wage campaigners, who argue for $18.80 an hour, disagree, Annie Newman of the campaign saying the increase is very disappointing.

She says the Government “should have taken a much bigger step than that” at a time when the economy is growing and we’re being told that workers are going to reap some of the benefits of this.

‘Certainly some relief’

ONE News political editor Corin Dann says the increase is certainly some relief for those on the lower income.

“As for timing, well it is election year,” Dann says, pointing out that this year’s annual increase is a little more than the rate of inflation.

“And remember the economy is doing well. So that does raise questions about whether they have raised it enough.”

Fundraising website for Forestry Workers Memorial Day – please circulate and support

19 Feb

Dear everyone,

Below is a link to our fundraising website to bring the forestry families to Wellington for WMD events on 27/28 April including a memorial service on 27, a street collection and procession on 28 (a general union event for all workers killed at work). We are going to need reasonable sums to get all those that want to come down here but it will be a very worthwhile event and with the high visibility of this campaign and the families themselves fundraising, I am confident we can get there. Can you please circulate this as widely as possible including in union newsletters etc if possible.

Thanks and regards

Helen Kelly


NZ Council of Trade Unions

Real wages – the brutal truth

19 Feb

By Mike Treen

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

The National Party has been caught getting their numbers wrong over the decline of real wages on their watch by the Green Party.

Last week, Green Party leader Dr Russell Norman pointed out that wages and salaries have risen by less than inflation during the term of the National government according to Statistics NZ’s Labour Cost Index.

Russell Norman speaking to the launch of Unite Union’s Living Wage petition

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce accused Dr Norman of “making stuff up” and claimed that an alternative measure called the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) is a better measure.

Statistics NZ however disagrees. They say “if you are interested in changes in earnings across time, the Labour Cost Index (LCI) is a better measure than the QES”. The QES measures the average wage paid. But averages can be pulled up by a few getting a big pay rise or by low paid workers becoming unemployed. It was true that in the late 1990s well-paid professions continued to do reasonably well while some (lawyers, accountants, doctors) did very well. So the average may have risen while the vast majority earned below the average.

Two-thirds of wage and salary earners actually earn below the NZ average wage of about $28.03 an hour.

Over the long term real wages fell by about a quarter in the late 1980s and early 1990s and have never recovered since.

The official statistics confirm that over the last three decades wages have failed to keep up with inflation – at least for the big majority of workers. Rather than wage increases pushing up prices, wages have unsuccessfully lagged behind price increases.

I did the following graph which showed a steady rise in real wages from 1957 to 1981. During nearly that whole period unemployment was only 1-3%. But the bosses organised a fight back that has pushed real wages back down to levels previously reached in the early 1970s.

Even if we use the QES figures favoured by Steven Joyce then the recovery in average real wages has been less than the previous decline.

The following graph covers the same period as mine but is from a couple of quite right wing economists who use the same data sources as mine for the period 1957-1992 but (naturally) prefer the QES rather than the LCI for the period since then.

This real wage index is based on a measure March Quarter 1978 = 1000

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Why Polly shouldn’t have that lolly

18 Feb

By Matt McCarten

Future generations will look back with horrified incredulity at how we allowed a cartel of international drug pushers to promote and sell poison legally.

They use our television, radio and print media and buy sophisticated promotions aimed at vulnerable victims. Once hooked on to a lifetime addiction, each will spend up to $100,000 over their lifetime for a product that has a 50 per cent chance of killing them.

I’m talking about tobacco, of course. Heroin and cocaine have a minuscule effect by comparison. The modest change of banning advertising and sports promotion and hiding cigarettes away in stores is applauded. The fight isn’t over but it’s in the home straight.

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Protect your hours of work!

13 Feb


By Mike Treen

It is important for all fast food workers to understand their rights for secure working hours.

While there are few guaranteed hours in most employment agreements we do have clauses designed to protect workers usual hours of work. In particular we have clauses in our union negotiated collective employment agreements that should mean the employer offers existing staff the hours of work that are available before hiring new staff.

Restaurant Brands union delegates training day

The problem is that many managers don’t respect these clauses. They like to have a lot of staff on the books to bring in when they want to. It also means they try to use their control over hours to punish workers they don’t like or reward their mates. This is illegal and should be reported and stopped.

We have collective agreements with Restaurant Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Carl’s Jr), McDonald’s, Wendy’s and BK. They deal with this issue in different ways – so read carefully.

Restaurant Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, SRestaurant Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Carl’s Jr).tarbucks, Carl’s Jr).

In the Restaurant Brands Collective Agreement we agreed to the principle that “rostered hours do not vary too much from week to week” and that this is “particularly relevant for employees who rely on their income to run their household.”

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Right wing blogger makes fool of herself

13 Feb

By Mike Treen

A right wing blogger has made a fool of themselves trying to dispute figures first revealed by me in the Dailyblog about how a huge gap had grown up between the number on benefits and the number being recorded as unemployed or jobless in the household labour force survey. She was replying to a column by my colleague Matt McCarten in the Herald on Sunday.

She did a crudely hand-drawn graph allegedly showing that if you combined the numbers on the unemployment benefit with the number on the sickness and invalid benefit you get a completely different picture. Well that is true with a hand drawn picture. However, if you actually use the official numbers from the Department of Statistics website and use an excel spreadsheet to draw the graph the picture is a little different (actually a lot different!).

Here is her graph.

She commented:

The purple line represents the number unemployed; the green line the number of people on the unemployment benefit. But what does it look like if I add the line representing people receiving a sickness or invalid benefit?

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Iwi leaders risk losing touch

12 Feb

By Matt McCarten

(Reprinted from Herald on Sunday, February 9, 2014)

That Iwi Leadership Group made a big mistake on Waitangi Day.

There’s been a lot of criticism over the years that many of them are a bunch of fat cats sucking on the teat of previous Waitangi settlements, living the good life. Staying at the ritziest hotel in the Bay of Islands with all the political and government elites on our national day is never a good look.

I don’t particularly begrudge the iwi leaders staying in the same air-conditioned five star accommodations where the politicians and our VIPs hang out. But they may have become ignorantly arrogant in this privileged isolation from their own people.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson – “pigs might fly.”

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Campaign success ! – Charges dropped against Fiji hotel leaders

5 Feb
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Great news from Fiji — charges have been dropped against the trade union leaders.

A little more than a week ago, I wrote to ask for your support for a new campaign. We were demanding that the government of Fiji drop all charges against trade union leaders, including Daniel Urai (pictured above).

As I wrote then, "the Fijian regime declared the strike illegal and arrested the leadership of the union … Bail conditions for the arrested leaders include not repeating the "offence" of calling a strike, so that if negotiations do not resolve the dispute and the union decides to hold another strike before the case is heard (which could be months, as it often is in Fiji), their leaders will be carted off to jail forthwith."

But now the charges have been dropped and we’ve suspended our online campaign.

The Fiji Trades Union Congress has thanked all of us for our support. The International Union of Food Workers, which sponsored the LabourStart campaign and which ran a parallel campaign of its own, issued this statement. The British TUC which was very involved in launching this campaign ran this short article by Owen Tudor on its Stronger Unions blog. And of course there’s lots more on LabourStart’s own Fiji labour news page.

I want to thank every one of you, and especially the more than 7,500 of you who sent off messages to the government of Fiji.

Our voices were heard. Our campaign worked.

Solidarity forever!


Eric Lee

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Rose-tinted view cruel fairy tales

5 Feb

By Matt McCarten

(Reprinted from the Herald on Sunday, Februiary 2, 2014)

Winz Office. Many unemployed not receiving unemployment benefit

This Government manipulates statistics to show how well the economy is doing and most of us swallow it.

The manufactured consent is the economy is booming and the number of unemployed is at record lows.

Here’s my unease with the unemployment success story. There isn’t a week I don’t meet jobless people who are seeking work yet receive no support from the state.

Many friends and extended family are hardworking people who tell me they don’t register with Work and Income NZ because they claim they are hounded by officious bureaucrats and made to feel like something icky on the aforementioned’s shoe.

The stories are too numerous to convince me there isn’t a calculated policy to make it humiliating for workers down on their luck to apply for assistance.

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