Minimum wage rise, new tax rate, benefit increases: Breakdown of Government's key employment, tax changes

A minimum wage hike, a new top tax rate, and an increase in how much beneficiaries can earn before their benefit is docked - these are just some of the changes coming into effect on Thursday that might impact you.

It's April 1 and the Government has made a raft of changes affecting hundreds of thousands of Kiwis across the country. 

Here's a rundown of some the key measures:

Minimum wage increase

As promised back in 2017, the Government will on Thursday fulfil its promise to raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour. It previously sat at $18.90. 

In 2017, when Labour took the Treasury benches in coalition with New Zealand First, the parties promised to progressively lift the minimum wage until it hit $20. It jumped from $15.75 in 2017 to $16.50 in 2018, $17.70 in 2019 and $18.90 in 2020.

The increases have been larger than that seen under the previous National Government, which also hiked the minimum wage every year, but generally only by 50 cents.

According to Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood, from Thursday, 175,000 New Zealanders will see their incomes lifted. 

"[This] means $44 more each week before tax for Kiwis working 40 hours a week on the minimum wage," Wood said.

Overall, the rise is estimated to raise wages by a total of $216 million. 

The adult minimum wage applies to all employees aged 16 years and over who are not starting-out workers or trainees.

Those on the starting-out and training minimum wage will see their pay jump from $15.12 to $16 per hour, remaining at 80 percent of the adult wage.

National has called for the hike to be put off, with the party's Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson saying the timing was wrong. 

"It's appalling timing for businesses up and down the countryside which have been struggling with the impacts of COVID and a slowing economy for a long period of time now," Scott Simpson said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern believes the Government is keeping mind of both employees and employers.

"We know our job as government is to constantly strike that balance of ensuring our lowest paid workers are earning enough to make their cost of living and to thrive, at the same time balancing that against the ability of employers to sustainably keep people on. We believe we have struck that balance," she says.

Concerned about forecast employment growth in 2021 off the back of the pandemic, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment last December recommended not increasing the minimum wage until October, and setting it at $19.15. 

Michael Wood.
Michael Wood. Photo credit: Getty.

New top tax rate

From Thursday, the top 2 percent of earners in New Zealand will be taxed more.

Before April, New Zealand's tax thresholds saw any income over $70,000 taxed at 33 percent. However, as a result of a change made after the election last year, any income over $180,000 will now be taxed at a new top rate of 39 percent.

Let's say you earn $260,000 a year. Only the income over $180,000 - so, $80,000 - is taxed at the 39 percent rate. You will be paying $4800 a year more, or about an extra $92 a week. 

It's important to note as well that the rate only applies to individuals. So a couple could be earning $240,000 a year - with each person earning $120,000 - but wouldn't be affected by the new tax rate. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the hike was needed to keep a lid on New Zealand's debt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also maintaining investment in core public services like education and health. 

It's expected to generate about $550 million of revenue each year. 

The tax rate remains in the bottom third of the 36 OECD countries, lower than Australia's 47 percent - including 2 percent Medicare levy - for income over $180,000.

How Labour's tax rate changes will affect earners.
How Labour's tax rate changes will affect earners. Photo credit: Labour.

Benefit and super rates

At Budget 2019, the Government made a significant change to how benefit levels are adjusted. Instead of being indexed to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), benefits are now linked to the average wage.

As a result, main benefits will increase by 3.1 percent on Thursday, with Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni saying about 385,000 families and individuals will be better off. The increase is more than double what it would have been under the CPI measure. 

You can find a list of the new rates here, but, for example, a couple with children on Jobseeker Support will get $441.30 in their hands per week, up from $428.06 - an additional $13.24.

For those on New Zealand Superannuation, rates are also increasing. For example, a single person will now receive $436.94, up from $423.83.

Ardern says the Government is looking after our most vulnerable.

"We have long had in our system minimum wage levels and wage levels that are at different rates than where our safety net, our benefit system sits. But I think we all acknowledge that that safety net has meant that people are struggling to survive which is why we have, as a Government, moved to lift that support."

Carmel Sepuloni.
Carmel Sepuloni. Photo credit: Getty.

Benefit abatement levels

The Government has also changed the benefit abatement levels. Essentially, this is the amount of money someone receiving a benefit can earn before their benefit is affected.

From Thursday, someone on the Jobseeker Support can earn $160 before tax each week before their benefit reduces. Previously, it was $90.

When a single individual earns more than $160, the payment to them reduces by 70 cents for every extra dollar of income they earn. Other benefits, like the Accommodation Supplement, may also be impacted. 

Sepuloni says the abatement changes will mean 82,900 low-income people and families will be better off by about $18 a week on average. About 50,200 of those are families with children. 

"Increasing the income abatement thresholds will make it more worthwhile for people to work, and improve the financial incentives to work part-time," says Sepuloni.

"It also means people facing reduced work hours, for example because of the impacts of COVID-19, may more readily access financial assistance while staying in their job.

"Part-time work is an important step for people moving from a benefit back into full-time work. It helps build and maintain skills, experience and self-confidence, and keeps them connected with the workplace."

The changes to the abatement thresholds will equate to an investment of $393.98 million over five years.