It comes around every few years, usually when there’s a recession coming. Some guys in suits who look like they haven’t done a hard day’s work in their lives, arguing that the minimum wage should be lower or the super age should be lifted. They say we can’t afford decent wages or super at 65. They’re wrong.
Why is it always the working people who are expected to tighten their belts, while we’re told the well-off should have tax cuts to “stimulate the economy”?
Chris Luxon and David Seymour have been at it this time. These guys probably last did a minimum wage job for a bit of pocket money when they were at uni. They look around their plush offices and see their colleagues living soft lives. They assume that’s the norm. That only kids earn minimum wage, and everyone has an easy enough life so they can continue working into old age.
Seymour reckons there should be a freeze on the minimum wage, saying workers “are not people that are leading households, they’re not generally people that are supporting a bunch of kids”.
It’s not true though. Three-quarters of minimum wage workers – about 170,000 people – are aged between 20 and 65. Forty-three per cent live in a family with dependent kids. It’s not that minimum wage breadwinners don’t exist; it’s that Seymour doesn’t see them.
My mum was one of those minimum wage workers who Seymour doesn’t see. Because when does he visit a place like Kawerau?
Mum would cook fish and chips, pick fruit – all bloody hard work. Back then, minimum wage increase didn’t happen every year. When the minimum wage was frozen for years on end, like Act wants to do, that was hard times for the family. When it was boosted – we felt the difference.
And let’s not write off the value of young people and assume they don’t need fair pay. Mum would drag me and my brothers along to pick fruit in the summer – hard mahi under the Eastern Bay of Plenty sun – and we’d supplement the pittance that made us by packing eggs. We needed the money. Lots of young people are working to make a vital contribution to their families.
Aotearoa needs to be a country where we value and respect all work and workers. The minimum wage should be a living wage, that means people can live in dignity. It’s good to see the $ 1.50-an-hour boost in the minimum wage that’s just come in. That $60 a week will mean a lot to a lot of families. Political parties need to keep on lifting it up, aiming to catch up to the official living wage.
Getting super at 65 meant a lot to Mum. She still worked a few more years part-time but having that super finally took some of the weight off for her after decades of grind.
Now, Luxon and Seymour want to lift the super age to 67. The Retirement Commissioner has taken a look at the question of raising the retirement age, and she concluded it would hit Māori, Pasifika, and women worst. Why? Because they’re already the ones working for less, and making them work longer without the support of super just makes life harder.
Imagine squeaking by for 40 years in the workforce, getting to 65 and then finding out you have to wait until you’re 67 or 70 to get super, losing $25,000 a year.
They try to tell us superannuation is unaffordable. Well, they’ve been saying that for 20 years. The sky was meant to fall if we didn’t lift the super age by 2020. Did it? Nah. The cost of super remains below 5 per cent of GDP. Even as the baby boomers retire, we can easily afford it. With the Cullen Fund still building up - $61 billion in the kitty right now – the edge will be taken off the cost in the future.
Like anything, it’s about priorities. Luxon and Seymour want to give tax cuts to landlords and the well-heeled while moving up the super age. That doesn’t sound like a good trade-off to me.
Aotearoa is a wealthy country (yup, we are – our economy produces nearly $80,000 per man, woman and child a year). We can afford to make sure all our workers get decent pay and that people can retire with some time left on the clock. We don’t need the mean kind of politics that is always looking for a reason to crimp and cut what ordinary people get while shovelling money to the rich.
Shane Te Pou (Ngāi Tūhoe) is a commentator, blogger and former Labour party activist.