COMMENT:

"Capitalism must regain its responsible, its human, face". Those are the words of Winston Peters when he announced the new Government.

Winston has always shown a great ability to read the electorate, and his words were chosen carefully.

He knows that this challenge is at the core of the Government's political mandate, and is the common ground that binds the supporters of all three Government political parties.

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So what is responsible capitalism?

In New Zealand I think it's about a commitment to egalitarianism. Ensuring we live in a nation where anybody has the chance to do well regardless of where they come from.

Where people have the freedom and opportunity to live well, own a home, raise a family, to have a stable and happy life.

I think it's this outlook that makes issues such as the affordability of housing, child poverty, our health system or the wage gap with Australia such burning topics for us.

The policy that makes that happen is where the rubber hits the road. Part of the answer is funding social services like health, part of it is redistribution through the tax and social security system, some of it is intervention to fix market failure like Kiwibuild will.

There is only so much re-distribution any Government can do before it realises it is faster and fairer to fix the economic and social problems causing inequality. That's making an economy that works smarter from the start – instead of the Government having to constantly clean up the mess.

Nowhere is this more important than with Fair Pay Agreements and equal pay. Both of these represent the coalface of a major structural social and economic problem: the loss of billions of dollars a year from working people's share of economic gain.

Over the last thirty years the end of sector bargaining with its consequent erosion of working people's bargaining power, and a wilful refusal to address the gender pay gap has led to a massive transfer of wealth from working people's pockets to corporate bottom lines, and to the trust funds of offshore shareholders.

This systematic disempowerment of working people in New Zealand has been one the keystones of the neoliberalism that Peters, the union movement, and so many others have railed against for so long.

It can be seen in the way our middle class is diminishing at a startling rate, in the fact that forty percent of children in poverty live in households with paid work, in the way Australian incomes have surged away from ours.

And the squeeze is still on. Just ask the couriers who are contracted below minimum wage to do 14 hour days and bear the risks of doing business themselves, the bus drivers having their incomes contracted out from under them, the double income professional couples who can't afford a home or to start a family.

This needs to be fixed. It's not sustainable. It is harming our people and it is hobbling our economy.

That's why the behaviour of business lobby groups campaigning and complaining over these changes is so disturbing. The games they are playing in misrepresenting basic changes that need to be made are incredibly harmful and irresponsible.

Even the people they claim to represent see the need for change. The Chairman of Mainfreight for example, has said "As a business, we are pleased with the youthfulness and energy of New Zealand's new Government. Given the problems they face, we are impressed with the speed at which they are coming to grips, and we wish them well."

And at the same time as these lobby groups are attacking pay equity and sector bargaining their own members are endorsing it. Business New Zealand members such as ANZ, Lion Breweries, and Westpac have publicly backed pay equity.

As the elected representatives of hundreds of thousands of working people, the union movement is working with government and business to solve really big issues.

Issues that have far-reaching consequences for the sort of economy we have and the kind of society it provides for.

We need business to take this seriously, and to represent responsible capitalism. We need business to work with us to do what's right for New Zealanders. Because ultimately, that will be what's right for their members too.

- Richard Wagstaff is the President of the Council of Trade Unions.