Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Let them eat nuts!

How unequal are incomes in New Zealand? And does it really matter? Yesterday the Herald revealed that the top paid executive in New Zealand (the ANZ's David Hisco) earns $4.1 million per year. The person cleaning his office probably earns the minimum wage or thereabouts. How do these compare?

The minimum wage is $14.25 per hour. $4.1 million per year equates to an hourly rate of $1,971. in other words Mr Hisco earns 138 times more than someone on the minimum wage. Of course Mr Hisco will undoubtedly tell anyone who listens that he deserves his pay, and from the ANZ's perspective he probably does. According to the same Herald article, the ANZ raked in $1.37 billion profit last year.

Part of Mr Hisco's job - and that of other top executives like him - is to make sure those profits are not threatened by the office cleaner demanding a fairer share of the GDP pie. To help in this aim they lobby politicians (SkyCity hosting MPs in its box at Eden Park as it pushed through its casino expansion convention centre spring to mind), and join lobby groups such as Business New Zealand and the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

Under this National government these efforts have been largely successful, with real wages barely keeping up with inflation and productivity gains continuing to be retained by employers. During its last term National attempted to pass legislation that undermined the rights of workers to collective bargaining and, as part of that, give employers the right to do away with workers' meal breaks. Apparently, the only way New Zealand's overpaid executives know how to retain or increase their profits is to undermine the rights and conditions of their workers. And Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges, was only too happy to oblige. 

As it turned out, National was unable to pass the legislation but now that it can rule unencumbered, the legislation is at the top of John Key's list of things to do. So what do the lobbyists who represent our million dollar execs think about workers not being guaranteed a meal break? A stunning insight was provided by the Employers and Manufacturers Kim Campbell (here, at about 3.54):
"Different people work in different ways. Maybe somebody wants to snack on nuts all day long, I mean that may be their choice. But it enables people to organise the workplace that best suits the work that has to be done."
Pardon? If you don't get a meal break you should just snack on nuts all day? Why yes, that will work in those fast food joints most likely to take advantage of such an obnoxious piece of legislation: "Can I take your order while I'm between mouthfuls of peanuts?" Or maybe people could do what the squirrel here is doing and stuff their mouths and nibble away during the day (or night).

What Mr Campbell has done is take an individual's preferences (and I know a couple of the nut snackers) and suggested the same applies to the workplace if that 'best suits' them. And all said without so much as a blush!

In the meantime, while the business sector is pushing to ensure that the wage gap and corporate profits remain untouched, where is the party of the workers? You know, the one who should be noisily leading the campaign against this vileness? With its head up its arse, engaged in a leadership squabble. What an absolute gift to the Tory right. I hope Mr Hisco's cleaner isn't expecting improved wages and conditions any time soon.