Wage gap with Oz more like chasm

By Paula Oliver

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The pay of dump truck operators in Australia - which typically comes in at between $73,000 and $84,000 a year (NZ dollars) - is being used to highlight the wage gap between New Zealand workers and their transtasman neighbours in a new report.

Free-market think tank the Centre for Independent Studies has zeroed in on the difference between transtasman pay in its report which investigates the reasons for the wage gap.

It cites figures which show New Zealand dump truck operators are a long way behind their Australian counterparts in the wage stakes, typically earning between $45,000 and $60,000.

Similarly, senior qualified accountants in Australia fall into a $147,000 to $211,000 range, while their Kiwi cousins come in between $90,000 and $150,000.

The think tank says the income gap between Australia and New Zealand is a "relatively new phenomenon".

But the gap has widened as New Zealand's labour productivity - or how much a person produces at work every hour - has fallen behind Australia's over time, the think tank argues.

It has arrived at the conclusion that the reason for this is a lack of investment by New Zealand firms in new tools and technology, and argues this is because of an uncertain investment environment created by the Government.

"There's obviously something there, some anomaly that's holding back investment," Centre for Independent Studies policy analyst Phil Rennie said yesterday.

"I've tried to find evidence for other reasons, but the strongest case for me still seems to be Government policy."

The think tank points to income tax differences and Government "interference" as negatives for New Zealand, claiming that among other things the Government has pushed up labour costs through changes to industrial relations laws without making sure there is any corresponding gain in labour productivity.

It also points to the decision to force Telecom to unbundle its local loop as something that could have unsettled investors. However, asked if Telecom's unbundling could potentially be a positive for other businesses, Mr Rennie said it could be in the long term.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen said last night that he couldn't comment on the detail of the report because he had not yet seen it.

But a spokesman said the idea that the Government was creating uncertainty around investment was "laughable. The truth is that the Government is moving to make it easier for New Zealand companies to reinvest in their work," he said.

"Under a Labour-led Government, New Zealand has actually kept pace with Australia's economic growth."

COMPARATIVE WAGES
In Auckland and Sydney (NZ dollars)

Dump truck operator
Auckland - $45,000-$60,000
Sydney - $73,000- $84,000

Leading hand (construction, building)
Auckland - $45,000-$55,000
Sydney - $58,000-$84,000

Senior qualified accountant
Auckland - $90,000-$150,000
Sydney - $147,000-$211,000

Senior doctor
Auckland - $113,500-$163,500
Sydney - $150,000-$203,000

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