For the Labour Party, employment and labour laws have traditionally been a central policy theme. This Government is clearly returning to that core political platform, with a number of labour market policy changes announced and underway. Many such changes are focused on ‘vulnerable’ employees, such as those on lower wages or challenging employment conditions. Māori are over-represented in this group, and for example 19% of Māori (52,300 people) worked in ‘low-skilled occupations’ (mainly as labourers) in 2016 and 39% (111,000 people) worked in ‘semi-skilled occupations’, compared to 10% and 35% for all New Zealanders . This means the cumulative effect of these policy changes has the potential to make a lift in overall Māori household incomes and well-being. Because of this we intend to provide a more detailed analysis on these issues in April. However key changes underway in this area include:
- raising the minimum wage to $16.50 per hour on 1 April, and continuing to increase it to $20 by 2021 (Māori are over-represented on or near the minimum wage);
- reconvening the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles as the next step in pay equity for New Zealand women. (Māori women are, collectively one of the lowest paid groupings in the workforce.) This group will be (a) determining the merit of a claim as a pay equity claim, and (b) considering how to select appropriate male comparators when assessing the work subject to a pay equity claim. The group needs to work fast, and report to Ministers by the end of February, so that legislation can be introduced in the middle of this year.
- removing the 90-day employment trial for businesses with over 19 staff, meaning people gaining employment with larger organisations have more immediate job security – so this incoming legislative change will apply to about 71% of all workers, but to only about 3% of all businesses/employers. (This is because 97% of employers have less than 20 staff, but these companies only engage 29% of all employees).