Will wages drop under National?

Much has been made of the “we would love to see wages drop” comment attributed to John Key.

Misquote, slip of the tongue, or is it the secret National Party employment relations agenda that Key inadvertently revealed to a reporter, as Tane suggests, when addressing a business audience?

Well, let’s look at the National Party policy:

Introduce a 90-day trial period for new employees by agreement between the employer and the employee, for businesses with fewer than 20 staff. During the trial period, either party may terminate the employment relationship for performance, without a personal grievance claim being brought.

Okay, so a small employer will be able to threaten to fire a worker in the first 90 days of employment if he or she joins a union, and the employee will have no personal grievance redress. That policy will have the practical effect of making it almost impossible to unionise small workplaces, with the consequent effect that the wage bargaining power of workers in small business is weakened. A sure recipe for ensuring wages remain low, if not drop.

Restore workers’ rights to bargain collectively without having to belong to a union.

Now this one’s even more worrying in terms of wage levels. This will mean that employers can play off a group of workers in their workplace who are un-unionised against those who are unionised, reach a low-wage settlement with the un-unionised group, and then tell the union the same settlement is available to them on a “take it or leave it” basis, and if they don’t take it lock them out until they do. It will seriously diminish the ability of workers to bargain collectively, and therefore see wages remain low, or even drop.

And there is no mention in the National Party’s policy of continuing even the modest increases in the minimum wage that have occurred over the last 9 years of Labour-led Governments.

So it seems to me that, whatever you make of John Key’s “wages drop” comment, if you want a low wage economy, then a Party Vote for the National Party is the way to go!

Contrast this with Green Party Policy that will see the minimum wage increased to $15 an hour and then tagged to 66% of the average wage, will facilitate multi-employer collective bargaining, and will address freeloading from non-union labour by imposing a bargaining fee of 90% of the relevant union membership fee. The Greens stand for moving to a high wage economy – National will clearly move in the opposite direction.

Evil, or just wrong?

Yesterday on the way home I saw one of those attempts to win the election by making the other side look bad.  It was a poster with a photo of John Key and speech quotes saying “we would love to see wages drop”.

This has been one of Labour’s favourite attack lines for quite a while now, but I really wish they would get over it. Aside from the fact that I’d prefer they invested at least some energy into talking about how they want to make New Zealand better, I also think the implication behind the accusation is silly.

Most politicians I have met, from across the spectrum, genuinely want to do good things for the country.  Yet the repeated repetition of this line implies two things.  One: that John Key actually wants wages to drop.  He is evil and wants to see people put into poverty. And two: that he is so naïve and foolish as to say this out aloud. He’s meant to be kind of like the villain in a James Bond movie that takes too long explaining his dastardly plan while Bond prepares his escape.

Here’s what I think.  John Key is lacking in political experience and nous, but not that badly.  Most politicians don’t need too much tutoring to know revealing their secret plan to impoverish people is not likely to win votes.  They teach that one on the first day of politician school.  Secondly I don’t think John Key has a secret, evil agenda to deliberately make people poor.  Like most other National MPs he wants to do good.  The fact that his employment relations policies will make people poor is neither here nor there in terms of the implied accusation that he is evil. What matters is whether he believes they will make wages drop or not.

So let’s clean things up a bit, stop trying to charge Key with the crime of being evil and just focus on the lesser charge of being wrong. Goodness Labour, we could even talk about our own policies and vision if we wanted to be really brave.