Among the primary things that need re-balancing if we are to become the fair and just society we imagine we might be is the value of a person's work.

Too often skills which are seen as "menial" are under-valued, while those depicted as "professional" are over-valued – a significant factor driving the growing inequality between rich and poor.

Okay, sure, someone who spends years at university training to be an accountant, engineer or a lawyer has invested a lot of time and money in pursuit of their career and, on the face of it, deserves to be better paid than someone who has left school early to drive a digger, cut timber or man a shop counter.

But everything is connected, and a business only truly succeeds if its products are not only fairly valued but dependable; it is the workmanship that goes into those products that underpins their quality and reliability.


Treat staff well, regardless of station, and they deliver productively.

Perpetual Guardian's implementation of a four-day work-week with no productivity drop proves it.

Every job has its skillset. Yet many firms continue to treat "unskilled" workers as fodder to be abused for company profit.

Companies relocate factories overseas where they can pay workers a tenth or less than they'd have to pay at home, instead spending more on quality control supervision to ensure the slaves stay on task – whoops, sorry; I mean standards are maintained – more or less.

But go buy a shirt made in Bangladesh and you'll find the sizing leaves a lot to be desired; a 5X from there fits like a genuine 2X made here, but without the length needed to cover a sizeable puku.

The reverse is firms bringing in overseas workers to do jobs they claim locals won't do.

In Hawke's Bay, the horticultural industry is the prime example.

Orchardists have enjoyed years of booming profits; all the flash pack-houses and copious new plantings suggest those businesses are, mostly, creaming it.


Yet bin-rates for pickers are essentially the same as they were 20 years ago; the imported island workforce may be happy to receive more than they'd get at home, but why export that wealth?

It doesn't help that our social welfare system is so broken as to be completely out of step with the growing "gig economy", where short-term and seasonal contracts are the norm, especially for the unskilled - but they are penalised for taking such jobs.

That part of the puzzle is one the Labour/Green-driven reform of welfare must address, with urgency. And it's one employers could help reform, too – if they actually want local workers, that is.

Meanwhile, automation is estimated to threaten the livelihood of at least half the existing workforce – and not just blue-collar.

The era of the permanently-unemployed degree-holder is upon us.

This shouldn't be an excuse to further devalue people's rights and expectations – the "put up with it or you're down the road" mentality – because it doesn't take much imagination to see this is a perfect storm for revolution.

That "revolt" may be nothing more than the masses being too disaffected to know a good leader from an appalling one – dare I say Trump? – but it could lead to the same level of societal breakdown as armed insurrection.

So those who have the choice to make the decisions whether to treat workers well or poorly had best wise up.

The communities they live in need to be strong and resilient to survive the coming tests.

They can only be so if wealth is more equitably shared, and all types of workers are equally valued.

■ Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. Views expressed are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's.