The ex-Prime Minister Bill English just said the new Government’s policy agenda is driven by "a nostalgic belief in trees, trains and trade unions”, which is a great insight into why we have inherited so many deep-rooted problems from the last Government. Jacinda has led her team with the understanding that good jobs, public services and a green environment are an important part of New Zealand’s history. They’re also exactly what the next generation wants as well. Young people need the security of a warm house and healthy meals, a good job, building savings and spending time with people they love in beautiful places.
The new coalition Government listened to New Zealanders. The pitch that trade deals and tax breaks will “trickle down” wealth rings hollow to Kiwis needing to work some of the longest hours in the OECD. It’s neoliberalism that’s gone out of fashion.
Turning a country around in 100 days is a mighty ask of any new Government. The red and black Treasury numbers only tell one part of the story. The new Ministers also have to confront the social and environmental deficits run up under the last Government.
This Government has been smart by tightly focusing on things that make a real difference for most people – affordable housing, mental health support, accessing education, rebalancing tax and rights at work. They’ve avoided vanity projects and kick-started longer term projects, like good jobs for youth in the regions and a just transition to a sustainable economy.
The 100-day programme is important for working people because it rolls back the unfair workplace changes that National introduced. It will restore basic decency to work - those unfairly dismissed can get their job back, it’s easier to negotiate your pay and conditions, and you can have your cuppa break again. These all were, and should still be normal in Kiwi workplace culture.
The minimum wage changes are a recognition that, now, close to a quarter of a million working Kiwis are paid the absolute minimum we deem legally acceptable. If working people were getting the same share of the wealth they produced as a generation ago, the average wage and salary earner would be $11,500 a year better off. A living wage of $20.20 is still our goal.
We’re relieved that employers won’t be able to unreasonably block unions from meeting and supporting staff anymore, and employers can’t clip your wages for exercising your right to take minor industrial action at work.
We still need to fix up a few areas where the law isn’t quite right. The 90 day ‘fire at will’ law hasn’t been fully repealed because New Zealand First haven’t yet been convinced. The majority of people will now have their fundamental rights restored, but the 30 per cent working in small businesses are still on the hook. Those 30 per cent are likely to be younger and paid less, and therefore more vulnerable than in larger firms. There’s no reason to create a two-tier system of rights. It’s confusing and 90 day trials don’t create any new jobs. We’ll let you know when you can have your say on this unfair law.
Nurses, teachers, social workers and other groups of publicly paid professions will be closely watching the Budget in May, to see if the Government is setting money aside for equal pay. And mental health and addiction support workers are still waiting for pay equity after the last Government wrongly left them out of the pay equity settlement for care and support staff.
Lastly, fair pay agreements are a great opportunity to move many workers on to decent wages. The Government has been clear it will consult and build consensus with working people and employers about how it will happen. We’re ready to have that conversation. We can stop the race to the bottom, where good employers are undermined by cowboys and poverty wage employers.
There’s a long way to go to achieve our vision for a better New Zealand. But being accountable and reporting on goals is helping the Government gain the confidence of the smoko room. You can’t do everything in 100 days. Putting your faith in planting more trees, improving our trains and growing trade unions sounds like a pretty good start.