Opinion: More money doesn't necessarily increase happiness, productivity or job satisfaction, Dr Jacqueline Rowarth writes.
Wages in the primary sector have featured in discussions about how to attract New Zealanders for the harvest season.
The suggestion that paying the pickers more will result in greater recruitment echoes what has been said about increasing the minimum wage.
The belief is that more money will increase work satisfaction and result in increased productivity.
But money is not the main driver – it can't buy love, doesn't buy happiness and is linked only weakly to job satisfaction. It is also not linked to productivity.
The Beatles and The University of Warwick reported on the first two.
The link to job satisfaction, was raised in the Inclusive Growth for New Zealand report from The Helen Clark Foundation and NZ Institute of Economic Research.
The report stated that "better paid workers are more motivated". The research referred to data from the International Social Survey Programme that indicated a weak link, but that pay is only about half of job satisfaction – many other factors are involved.
It also made the point that job quality comes at a price (hours of work, childcare, sick leave), and businesses that prioritise job quality over everything else will become insolvent – they can't afford to "give it all".
Employees make choices between types of job and the balance of dollars, development and perks, weighing the pros and cons according to their values – security (perhaps lower pay), tougher conditions (higher pay), easy location (no travel costs).
The second component in the theory about increased pay is that it will lead to higher productivity.
David Law, senior fellow with the New Zealand Initiative has pointed out the fallacy of this argument in blunt terms: "So, would hiking the rate fix this country's flagging productivity? Of course not. If it could, firms would have already raised wages. Most workers are paid above the minimum wage because their productivity warrants it."
Using OECD comparisons he showed that New Zealand's minimum wage is already high.
He also highlighted the fact that raising the minimum to what has been picked as "The Living Wage" would result in increased unemployment, particularly in the young, low-skilled and inexperienced. MBIE estimates 35,000 jobs will disappear if the minimum wage increases significantly.
The very concept of increasing wages drives "off-shoring". When costs of production, processing and handling increase in New Zealand, business owners look for solutions – cutting staff numbers and staying in business might be possible with new technological solutions, but finding replacement workers overseas might be a simpler way to stay in business.
Unlike manufacturing and call centres, harvesting can't be "offshored". Instead, overseas workers, whether backpackers or the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, has been the solution.
Suggestions that they are paid below the minimum wage have been debunked by many employers – orchards topping up the salary to ensure that slow pickers on piece rate do actually gain the money; fast pickers achieving $25-$30/hour.
Accommodation and transport have also been discussed. And though there have been some bad stories they are not the norm.
The real point is that what is offered here is better than achievable overseas. In contrast, for New Zealanders on benefits, it isn't.
But perhaps of more importance is that job choices these days are often based on feelings, top in which is appreciation.
A synthesis of several studies by Forbes ranks appreciation first and relationships with colleagues and work life balance as the top three. Learning and career development is sixth, job security seventh, and attractive fixed salary is eighth.
Listen to Jamie Mackay interview Dr Jacqueline Rowarth on The Country below:
The implication is that increasing the minimum wage will not fix the problem.
Increased appreciation of the work done is the first step and given the importance of the primary sector in ensuring that the New Zealand economy continues to have new money
brought in to the country, should be a no-brainer: food is vital to the world and we produce what is wanted.
Appreciation starts in homes and is enhanced in schools. The OECD report on Drawing the Future reported that internationally, most popular jobs for boys are police and armed forces and for girls is teaching.
The focus is not on money but on "job worth". The report also indicated that children learn about potential careers from film, TV and radio. Farmer, food producer and scientist could be in the mix with more government and media focus on their importance in society.
The Primary Sector supports growth in every business and every town in New Zealand.
The Deloitte 2019 report "Slice of Heaven" shows the contribution. For Auckland the economic impact in GDP terms 2019-2040 was indicated at $3.9b for tourism - but for agribusiness and food processing was $8.6b. Nationally, tourism was $11.5bn and agribusiness and food processing was $14.6b. And that was before Covid-19.
The world is going through a reset and rethinking the attitude towards jobs on the land is vital.
Salaries in the primary sector are there for the picking – and the view from the "office" is superb New Zealand.
• Dr Jacqueline Rowarth is an Adjunct Professor at Lincoln University. She is also a farmer-elected director of DairyNZ and Ravensdown. The analysis and conclusions above are her own. firstname.lastname@example.org