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The Press- News column Nov 4

NZ’s “Rock-Star Economy” should be a world leader for the Working Poor.

As the retail and service sector gears up for the Christmas rush and the ringing of tills, how many of our working poor are going to enjoy the fruits of a first-world festive season?   The John Key government fully deserved to be re-elected for a third term, but I’m not the unblinking, unswerving, card-carrying  National Party cheer-leader, I’m sometimes accused of being. Such a point of difference is the minimum wage. I believe any adult doing an honest day’s work in New Zealand deserves a better hourly return than $14.25. Anecdotally, it is the grocery giants that strike me as being the meisters-in-chief of miserliness.  When was the last time you heard of a supermarket operator struggling to make a dollar? Or going bust? They simply don’t. They are spectacularly successful, mega-profit enterprises. Karen works at one of my local supermarkets. She’s been there 6 years, with supervisory duties. She’s a beacon of outstanding customer service. Her hourly rate? $14.75. It’s indecent , piss-poor pay. But she loves her job and workmates. Perhaps supermarket workers should have tip jars. Interestingly, amongst my friends employed by small, independent retailers, their hourly pay rates are higher than the big boys. So if small business can remunerate with dignity, why can’t the fat cats? During The Press Leaders Debate, John Key passionately countered David Cunliffe’s charge on raising the minimum wage, by claiming that you don’t hear President Obama championing the cause because “Barack Obama knows it will kill jobs.”  The Prime Minister could not have been more wrong.  Throughout 2014, the US President has been jaw-boning Congress to lift the minimum wage by 30%. Just last week, Obama was letting rip on the debate, with the tub-thumping verve of a pentecostal preacher off the leash. Similarly, the chief economic advisor for Allianz, Mohamed A El-Erian is warning that unless developed nations hike minimum wage rates, income inequality will continue to engulf those economies. At the recent World Bank/IMF Summit, no agreement was reached, but the issue is will be aired again at next week’s G20 in Brisbane. New Zealand’s “rock-star economy” should lead the way in elevating the working poor, by lifting the minimum wage to $16 an hour, and inflation-proofing it, beyond that. An extra $50-100 a week, would make a world of difference to the likes of Karen, taking the sting out of housing costs.  Beyond faffing about with the flag, here’s a golden opportunity for John Key to be on the right side of history, by showing the way as a compassionate capitalist.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, as first published in The Press. November 4.

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