with Mike Chapman
On April 1, the minimum wage will increase to $18.90 an hour following a pattern of consistent increases over the years. At the same time the Government is consulting on putting in place fair payment agreements that would apply to whole sectors of industry and set a higher wage rate than that imposed by the minimum wage act.
We could debate whether government has a role in setting how much workers are to be paid. It is a fact that no matter what political parties makes up the Government there will be legislation prescribing pay rates be that a minimum or what is considered to be fair pay. So there is not much point arguing that point.
I think the focus should be on what sort of pay rate legislation the Government uses. The minimum wage act came into force shortly after the end of World War II. Industrial relations and the country’s economic conditions were very different then. Today we live in very different economic conditions such that the current Government is advocating fair pay agreements. My first point is that you cannot have both a minimum wage act and fair pay agreements. The Government needs to choose which pay rate mechanism it will rely on and look to the future of employment.
But neither minimum wages nor fair pay agreements, are futureproofing employment in New Zealand. They are measures focused on wages and focused on employment conditions that in the near future will not exist. We may be short of skilled workers today but artificial intelligence and robotics is rapidly developing those skilled workers and they are not people. I imagine that people will always be required if only to repair and programme artificial intelligence and robots. In the near future many of the jobs currently being performed, even highly qualified jobs, will not need people to be performed. Getting money from a bank and checking in at an airport are just two examples of jobs that are no longer performed by people. This could extend to legal and medical advice.
I think the legislation the Government needs to be developing should be future-looking and take account of the fact that many jobs currently performed by people will not be performed by people but by machines. There will always be jobs that people will need to do; some highly skilled and, some not so skilled. Progressively there will be more people without jobs. The issue will become what will they be paid? Neither the minimum wage act or fair pay agreements will look after them.
The Government should therefore move away from a focus on how much people are paid and look to how people will be employed in future; and, how people who are not employed will have an income to live on and a fulfilling life. This requires a complete mindset change and one we need to start addressing sooner than later. So I ask when there is no fair day’s work to be done, what am I going to get paid?