I read a news story about how exhausted the press gallery is after the election. It made me smile.

I'm not denying it's true. I have friends and family in the gallery. I appreciate how hard they worked and how tired they must be.

I feel exhausted myself. Election campaigns are always gruelling and this one came with about a month of extra time.

But I was reading this story in the supermarket queue and as I reached the check-out the friendly woman behind the till handed me the "next check-out" sign to put behind me.


It was about 6.30pm so I asked if it was time to head home.

Yes, she said with a sigh.

"Long day?" I asked.

It turned out she started at 7.30am. As it was Labour Day the queues had been relentless.

It sounded worse than chasing Winston Peters around Parliament for 11 hours.

I don't know if she was being paid the minimum wage but it's a good bet she was "choosing" to work those long hours on a public holiday because she needed to.

It seems difficult to imagine how anyone could oppose a rise in the minimum wage when they consider the struggle workers go through every day.

That's the bleeding-heart sob-story part of this column done, though.

It is important to look at the other side of the argument because, despite what some on the left seem to think, it isn't driven by mean spiritedness.

It's true business leaders and employers groups push back on minimum wage legislation for ideological reasons.

The role of government in the labour market is one of the most fundamental political divides of the past 150 years.

I'm not jumping into that one.

But the risk of arbitrary wage rises pushing up inflation is worth considering because those most at risk are the least well paid.

Wage inflation drives price inflation as businesses pass costs on.

And because workers earning the least tend to spend a higher proportion of their wage on fixed costs like food they are disproportionately disadvantaged by inflation.

An extra dollar an hour isn't worth anything for someone if the cost of living rises by the same amount.

Even if the inflation impact is limited, a legislated wage rise is less valuable to the worker than one driven by productivity and that doesn't lift prices.

Rising inflation also tends to result in higher interest rates - the key tool for fighting it.

That raises the cost of living for those with mortgages and makes business less likely to borrow to expand.

There's a risk businesses that rely on low wage workers will be less inclined to hire extra staff and unemployment may rise - which puts downward pressure on real wages.

Economists want to see a lift in real wages - the amount average wages rise above the cost of living.

To generate real wage growth across the economy we need to improve productivity per worker.

It's worth noting here none of this will be a surprise to new finance minister Grant Robertson.

He spent much of the campaign talking about plans to boost productivity and real wages by upskilling workers and investing in technology.

He is also looking to head off some of the inflation impact on interest rates by requiring the Reserve Bank to include unemployment in its equations on the official cash rate.

So Labour will argue the lift in minimum wages - across four years - is part of a balanced package to address wage growth.

They might also add the timing couldn't be better coming as it does during a period of historically low inflation.

Governments around the world have been battling deflation risk and looking for ways to stimulate their economies.

Raising the minimum wage in this environment could be seen as a kind of stimulus - certainly less risky than it would be if inflation were already running hot.

Some business owners might feel aggrieved they'll be providing that stimulus rather than a direct government subsidy. But last week Jacinda Ardern hinted there may be tax measures in the mix for small businesses to balance the costs of a higher wage bill.

That makes sense. We need small businesses to grow into bigger businesses if we want to boost productivity and create jobs.

But they are the ones that may struggle most with minimum wage legislation.

They are certainly the ones who least fit the union narrative of employers screwing down workers wages to pay their CEO's million-dollar salaries and deliver big dividends to shareholders.

A decent living wage for everyone is something we should all agree on. It's better for New Zealand if those working the hardest for the least have more time to spend with their children and more disposable income to invest in their children's futures.

The extent that the Government can legislate that will always be contentious.

Business shouldn't be surprised that a Labour Government would move on this.

Labour's job now is to articulate how the obvious risks of such policy will be minimised as part of a broader package - one that addresses issues of fairness without stalling the economy that creates the jobs society's most vulnerable desperately need.