NZ Election 2020: Labour's sick days, minimum wage increase promises see pushback from business

Labour is pledging to double the number of paid sick days available to workers and increase the minimum wage. 

But National leader Judith Collins says the policy shows Labour's out of touch with businesses who are already struggling in a recession.

Wellington cleaner Malia Motusaga works two jobs, six days a week. She has five children and is on minimum wage. And she's all out of paid sick leave. 

"I used all my sick leave for my kids when they got sick," she says.

Motusaga says she would stay home if she had COVID-19 symptoms but that would mean missing out on pay which her family can't afford. 

"I need the money. To pay our rent, put food on the table," she says. "I need more days."

Labour is promising just that.

"To increase sick leave, the minimum sick leave entitlement from five days to 10 days," says Labour's workplace relations spokesperson Andrew Little.

He says COVID-19 is highlighting the need for an increase.

"There are a whole bunch of workers who, were it not for wage subsidies and leave support subsidies, would not have been able to take the time either for their health or for their families health," he says.

Richard Wagstaff, the Council of Trade Unions president, says it's "not just a COVID issue". 

"It's an issue every year when there are flus going around, when there are other bugs going around."

The Council of Trade Unions admits many workers already get more than five days of paid sick leave. But it warns employees on minimum sick days are often on minimum wage too. 

Labour's promising to address that by increasing the minimum wage to $20 an hour. 

Business New Zealand says both pledges are too much pressure for employers. 

"There will be some small businesses and larger businesses that simply can't afford it because of the circumstances they're facing due to COVID," says BusinessNZ's Kirk Hope.

National Party Leader Judith Collins agrees. 

"I think the Government is very clearly just asking other people to pay for their promises."

But Labour says it is mindful of businesses doing it tough.

"We will be alert to the pressure that businesses have been under but we don't want to lose momentum," says Little.

For Motusaga, more sick days means less stress when she has to care for her children.