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Why minimum wage rises matter

  • Opinion
  • April 20, 2018
  • Rachel Helyer Donaldson
Why minimum wage rises matter

After writing a feature for NZ Retail magazine on recent and upcoming changes to employment law, freelance writer Rachel Helyer Donaldson was struck by the ideological distance between the retailers and retail staff she spoke with. 
 

It’s no secret that retail looks set to get a massive shake-up under the new Labour-led Government’s employment law overhaul, and this will affect both retailers and their staff.

Whether these changes are positive or negative so often depends on who you are. Writing a feature for the April/May issue of NZ Retail on the forthcoming law changes, I was struck by the chasm between many business owners and workers when talking about pay and work conditions.

We hear a lot about how pessimistic retailers are, in the wake of the minimum wage rise, to $16.50 on April 1, and the incremental moves towards $20 by 2021.

Everyone from Mojo Coffee to my local cattery is putting up their prices in response to the wage rise, and plenty of retailers are set to follow suit too.

Margins can be tight, particularly for SMEs. Yet retailers face all sorts of escalating costs – inventory, store fixtures, utilities, insurance, advertising, rent, and so on - that can affect prices, but these usually occur without the same scare-mongering that is reserved for a minimum wage increase.

New Zealand Herald journalist Brian Rudman points out that in 2016, chief executives’ pay rises averaged $56,000 - considerably more than the annual pay of their staff on the minimum wage.

But when the minimum wage goes up, instead of acknowledging how it could help people on it, many blame the Government and the lowest of the low-paid for threatening the economy and making the punters pay.

There are exceptions, retailers who pay their staff a living wage ($20.55) without needing the stick of legislation, such as Wellington fashion boutique Harry’s and cycle shop Bicycle Junction, and Auckland’s Eightthirty Coffee Roasters.

These companies value the workers who sell their products, and have inserted the living wage into their business model accordingly.

While many retailers bemoan the minimum wage rise, it will make a difference to those who receive it. It’s still not a huge amount, and nor is even a living wage, but at least that allows you to afford basic expenses to get by as well as participate in society. New Zealand is an expensive place to live, even for those on significantly higher salaries, and earning a wage that pays you enough to live on and house, clothe and feed your family needs to be a basic right.

Talk to retail workers, and you get a picture of the other side. They talk about just getting by, if they’re lucky, and the difficulty of getting enough hours to make a liveable income even when their pay rates are relatively reasonable. One retail employee told me that while her favourite part of her job is helping customers, what she doesn’t like is feeling “expendable”.

Being valued and respected – having a living wage, having hours you can rely on and feeling listened to - can go a long way to improving workers’ lives. No worker should have to subsist simply to subsidise someone else’s business.

The Government hopes to tip the balance back to better protect vulnerable workers, while creating a high-performing economy that delivers good jobs, decent work conditions and fair wages for all. Let’s hope it can straddle the chasm and maybe even find some common ground.

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Picking up the scraps: The companies leading waste minimisation

  • Design
  • January 23, 2020
  • Findlay Buchanan
Picking up the scraps: The companies leading waste minimisation

In New Zealand, we discard 15.5 million tonnes of waste each year, an absurd amount for a small, agrarian, country at the bottom of the earth. Partly, the problem lies in our recycling systems – only a meager 28 percent of it is recycled. But, new radical solutions are being developed, we’ve already transformed water bottles into asphalt, plastic bags into clothes, and roofing into pavements. Plus, a company in the states, Joachim’s firm, plans to build a 53-story tower made with the waste, a vision for tall buildings and skyscrapers that could be made of plastic.

Read more
 
 

2020 vision: What 2020 means for Dargaville retailers

  • News
  • January 22, 2020
  • Rachel Helyer Donaldson
2020 vision: What 2020 means for Dargaville retailers

In the final installation of our series looking at retail in seven New Zealand regions, we're examining Dargaville.

Read more
 
 

Container Door fined $54,000 over non-compliant bicycles

  • News
  • January 21, 2020
  • The Register team
Container Door fined $54,000 over non-compliant bicycles

Ecommerce retailer Container Door has fallen afoul of the Commerce Commission after supplying pedal bicycles which did not meet mandatory product safety standards.

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2020 vision: How Cambridge retail will perform this year

  • News
  • January 21, 2020
  • Rachel Helyer Donaldson
2020 vision: How Cambridge retail will perform this year

As part of a series looking at seven regional centres to consider what regional retail looks like this year, we're considering Cambridge.

Read more
 
 

Steve Mills becomes Countdown's new GM of Merchandise

  • Who's Where
  • January 21, 2020
  • Makayla Wallace-Tidd
Steve Mills becomes Countdown's new GM of Merchandise

Countdown has announced Steve Mills as the new general manager of merchandise.

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Larger retailers to discuss key issues in Retail NZ’s new group

  • News
  • January 20, 2020
  • The Register team
Larger retailers to discuss key issues in Retail NZ’s new group

Retail NZ is launching a new Leading Retailers’ Group for large and significant retailers. With its first meeting to be held in late February, the group will provide a safe outlet for senior retailers to discuss issues affecting the sector.

Read more
 
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