Parties blast 50c wage increase

By Sam Boyer

1 comment

The Government will increase the minimum wage by 50 cents - but many critics in and out of Parliament are describing the increase as an insult.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson yesterday announced the April 1 change, which raises the minimum wage from $13 to $13.50 an hour.

The training and new entrants' minimum wages will also increase from $10.40 to $10.80, or 80 per cent of the adult minimum wage.

"Those working full-time on the minimum wage will earn an extra $20 a week or more than $1000 a year," Ms Wilkinson said.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason said he considered the increase reasonable in the economic climate.

"The minimum wage rise of 50 cents equates to a 3.9 per cent increase in wages.

"Most employers would consider this reasonable bearing in mind the December 2011 inflation rate was 1.8 per cent.

"There will be many employees in Tauranga this year that will not get anything like that, given the tightness of many sectors in the economy," he said.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

But New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was one of many voices yesterday to register his discontent at the wage increase, saying it should have been raised to at least $15 an hour.

He said the Government had failed its voters with the 50-cent increase, which amounted to "an insulting pittance".

"This is the Government that gave huge tax cuts to its rich mates. New Zealanders who believe in a fair go know this Government has one set of privileges for the rich while the poor slide further into poverty," Mr Peters said.

The parties that make up the Government should be ashamed, he said, and singled out the Maori Party for special criticism.

"Everybody knows that National has a callous disregard for workers but the Maori Party claims to stick up for Maori people on low incomes. The reality is the gap between rich and poor is growing all the time and the Maori Party is just as guilty as National," he said.

But the Maori Party, too, has condemned the rise, saying the policy lacks political courage.

"The Maori Party supports a minimum wage of $16 per hour, as a way to meet the needs of low-income workers. Those workers often referred to as the 'working poor'," party co-leader Tariana Turia said.

Peter Conway, secretary of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, said that while any increase was welcomed, it fell short of the $15 minimum wage proposed by the Labour Party in the build-up to last year's election, a figure he said had widespread public support, and would not significantly address concerns regarding poverty or inequality.

"This minimal increase to the minimum wage will not help low-income households who were hit hard by the increase in GST and [were] not compensated adequately by tax cuts that favoured those on higher incomes. The government has missed a chance to help re-balance this equation and put more money in the pockets of low income families," he said.

"Measures of living standards show that many New Zealanders experience hardship on a daily basis ... this small increase to the minimum wage will not help these groups of New Zealanders in any meaningful way," he said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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