1492979563952 - Mike Yardley: New Zealand’s immigration settings suppressing pay rates

Mike Yardley: New Zealand’s immigration settings suppressing pay rates

OPINION: I find myself in the not so familiar position of applauding and admiring some recent flourishes by the the union movement and collective power.

The monumental union-negotiated settlement to significantly boost pay rates for the aged care sector is a stunning victory for basic decency.

The sharper lens of an election year, and the ongoing public unease about growing inequality, would have certainly helped embolden the Government to strike this historic $2 billion settlement, which will substantially transform the pay packets of 55,000 residential care and home support workers.

It’s been an incremental journey to decent pay and working conditions for our aged care workers.

This bumper pay increase completes the trifecta, after the Government previously agreed to remunerate workers for travel time and enshrine guaranteed hours in their work contracts.

READ MORE:
* Historic pay increase for workers in female dominated industry
* Explainer: What do the Government’s immigration changes mean?
* KFC, Pizza Hut, Carls Jr, Starbucks workers go on strike
* One good step to pay equality but hundreds still to go
* New Zealand living wage rate of $19.80 to kick in July 1

Wellington rest home worker Kristine Bartlett, who led the successful pay equity legal action five years ago, must be a sitter for New Zealander of the Year.

In a sector heavily dominated by female workers, their dedication of care is finally being formally dignified and valued.

With crappy pay rates soon becoming consigned to history, rest home operators will no longer have to sponge off third world labour markets by importing vast hordes of generous-hearted Filipinos to staff their facilities.

It is a classic illustration of the folly behind New Zealand’s immigration settings in recent years, which have been crudely and expeditiously cheapened to allow the country to be flooded by third world migrants, who will willingly work for miserable pay.

Not only has this kept Kiwis frozen out from legitimate jobs and suppressed pay rates, but it has fuelled the downstream impact on housing prices and infrastructure strain.

The Government’s latest tweaks to our immigration settings, whereby “skilled” migrants must earn more than the median wage and “essential skills” work visa holders must leave after three years, are grossly overdue.

But what about the 120,000 student visas blithely issued last year, under the guise of Export Education?

The Government will argue the industry is a big earner for the country – but what about the costs?

Why should tens of thousands of international students be allowed to work here for up to four years while they seek permanent residence, even if they aren’t engaged in a high-skilled job as a result of the course they supposedly came to here to undertake? It’s absolutely backdoor immigration, wracked with scams.

Perhaps that is why so many foreign students end up staffing our service stations and fast food restaurants, settling for abysmal pay, rather than going home.

No-one is ever going to make a fortune flipping burgers for Ronald or frying chicken for the Colonel.

But Unite Union’s weekend strike action at Restaurant Brands outlets warrants public support.

Contract negotiation talks have broken down over what is an incredibly modest pay rise request. Unite’s push for an annual pay increase of 10 cents an hour for three years would see the company’s lowest paid workers earn 30 cents an hour above the minimum wage by 2019.

McDonald’s has already committed to such an increase, alongside boosting shift supervisors onto a “Living Wage” and introducing redundancy payments.

But despite its bumper profits, global acquisitions and recent $1 million performance bonus to the chief executive, Restaurant Brands seems quite content to behave like a cliche Scrooge toward its staff.

A 30 cent per hour increase for 4000 workers, most who work part-time, is not a bank-breaker.

It is equally objectionable that KFC supervisors, who are mostly women, are being paid $1.80 an hour less than cooks.

I was chatting to a local staffer, employed in a supervisory role at a Christchurch KFC. Her pay rate is a risible $16 an hour.

Restaurant Brands is also refusing to agree to redundancy payment for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Currently workers are entitled to just one week’s notice.

My father, who is a shareholder with Restaurant Brands, has remonstrated with the board and management to display some dignity with worker pay rates.

It would be most welcome if fellow shareholders followed suit, to shame the biggest knuckle-dragger in the low-pay stakes to start sharing the love.

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