The idea that a job is a kind of largesse, and that those upon whom it is bestowed ought to be thankful and compliant, has long featured in the New Zealand debate over employment relations law.
The late and much lamented former CTU chief Helen Kelly termed this "a narrative of deference", telling the Labour Party Congress in 2011 it "lies at the heart of the attacks on work rights. Whether it is removing the right of appeal against unfair dismissal, restricting access to sick leave, making meal breaks negotiable, undermining access for workers to union organisers, trading annual leave or dismantling key features of the ACC scheme - it was done in the context of this narrative. When you are a beneficiary, you are at the mercy of the giver and should be grateful."
In that same speech, Kelly offered the sketched outlines of what became Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs), pointing out that 91 per cent of private-sector employees without access to collective bargaining are left to fend for themselves.
"If you take, for example, the aged care worker in Whanganui, the food worker in a muesli factory, the hospitality worker in a bar in Courtney Place or a worker in a Four Square in Kaitaia, currently almost all their terms and conditions are determined unilaterally by their employer," Kelly said.
As a result, as Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood told me by email: "This can allow employers to undercut each other by offering lower wages and conditions across an occupation or sector, making it harder for individual employees to negotiate better terms and conditions of employment."
Fair Pay Agreements offer a solution, Wood explained, by enabling "all workers across an industry or occupation to be covered by the same minimum working conditions, like pay and working hours. This could improve wages and conditions for some employees, and level the playing field so that employers who are trying hard to offer fair terms don't get undercut and disadvantaged".
Not unexpectedly, Kirk Hope of BusinessNZ, someone I consider an effective but good faith advocate, is no fan of FPAs.
"If wages are forced up through wide-scale compulsory collective bargaining, you will just get an endless spiral of price rises that will leave no one better off in real terms. [With FPAs], it becomes very challenging for NZ to remain internationally competitive."
I respect Hope's position, but it contains unmistakable echoes from past debates over employment relations reform in New Zealand. Whenever changes that benefit workers are proposed, employer groups and conservative politicians find ways to use whatever economic conditions happen to prevail at that moment to say they cannot be justified. Dire projections flow forth about their inflationary, anti-competitive effects. Unions, we're told, if given their way, will bully the economy to ruin.
This kind of fear-mongering belies the careful, collaborative approach actually laid out in the law. For a start, FPAs must be actively sought by workers in industry or occupation groups. They also must be agreed upon when finalised by both employers and employees in that area.
For most employers, an FPA is likely to set benchmarks and minimum standards they comfortably exceed anyway. In fact, employers often prefer sector-wide standards to avoid upward and downward bidding wars on wages and conditions within their industry.
As I write this, I'm sitting in a comfortable, ergonomic chair looking outside my office window in central Auckland, as a roadworks crew battles the pelting rain on the street below. It's led me to think about the double standard at play here.
It's striking to me how opponents of every pro-worker policy idea seem oblivious to the generous working conditions their station in life affords them. People in well-paid corporate or public-sector jobs know they'll be looked after if a crisis comes. Our salary won't be halted if we need to take prolonged sick leave or take time off to look after a sick kid or elderly parent.
Employers know this doesn't undermine productivity - but increases it by creating a congenial workplace where people feel respected and valued. And yet, when wage-based workers ask for a fraction of the flexibility we take for granted, they get blamed for sluggish productivity and are accused of putting the economy in peril.
Unions are likely to seek Fair Pay Agreements in the security, cleaning, bus drivers supermarket, and care and support sectors in the first instance. These are jobs undertaken by a disproportionately young, Māori and Pasifika workforce, at or near the minimum wage.
These are also the front-line workers who took to the field while the remainder of the Team of Five Million watched on from the stands. Improving their working conditions and treating them with the dignity they deserve is hardly likely to blow our economy apart. They've earned our gratitude and goodwill. Are good wages too much to ask?
• Shane Te Pou (Ngai Tuhoe) is a company director at Mega Ltd, a commentator and blogger and a former Labour Party activist.