Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dear Mr Woodhouse: working people deserve a living wage

Even in a Cabinet notable for its lack of intellectual depth, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse is quickly establishing himself as a lightweight.

Asked on Campbell Live about the implications of zero-hours contracts (ie no or variable pay from week to week) his response was that workers should go to Work and Income for help.

Think about that for a moment. People who are in paid employment are being told to go cap in hand to the agency that reluctantly provides assistance to the destitute. Memo to Mr Woodhouse: it is not the function of Work and Income to provide income assistance for those in work. 

I have talked to older New Zealanders with a touching faith that we still have a 'social welfare' system that provides a safety net. Their naivity is understandable: the manistream press unquestioningly regurgitates any government press release congratulating themselves on their protection of the vulnerable. Mr Woodhouse, on the other hand, as the member of a government actively moving people off the welfare rolls as part of its Better Public Services targets, has no such excuse. In addition, it is a bad look for the government to gloat about the number of people moving off welfare into work on the one hand, then tell them they still need to deal with Work and Income on the other. Mr Woodhouse should have a discussion with his colleague Anne Tolley (if he can find her) about what exactly a visit to Work and Income might involve (hint: it's not very life-affirming).

Since Mr Woodhouse is obviously clueless about what going to Work and Income might entail, and the chances of one's application for assistance being processed on time and correctly, here is a photo taken at the Auckland Action Against Poverty impact at Mangere last year. At this impact, AAAP dealt with over 500 people who were not receiving their full and correct WINZ entitlements. AAAP have had a steady stream of people through the doors ever since who are also fighting to get their entitlements or have had their entitlements cut for no good reason. 

Zero-hours contracts are modern day serfdom, and their increasing use by employers is exacerbating to our already high income inequality. Worse, it makes it hard for families to have any certainty of income from week to week. In a country as wealthy as New Zealand, this is a travesty. Working people deserve a living wage.