Election 2023: Labour, Greens campaign on improving workers' rights

Chris Hipkins spoke on Saturday.
Chris Hipkins spoke on Saturday. Photo credit: Newshub.

Workers' rights were at the centre of the election campaign on Saturday, with Labour promising to repeal the starting-out and training wages while the Greens want to extend the annual leave entitlement to five weeks.

Both Labour leader Chris Hipkins and Greens co-leader Marama Davidson delivered speeches at the E tū union's campaign launch in Auckland's Mangere on Saturday afternoon.

Hipkins said a re-elected Labour Government would repeal the starting-out and training wages.

"Current legislation allows our youngest workers and our workers undertaking training to be paid less than the statutory minimum rate, even though they are often doing the same work as their colleagues.

"Only a small number of young people are employed using these lower wages and removing them will help to restore equity in our minimum wage system."

The starting-out wage, which applies to some teenage workers who haven't done six months of continuous work, and the training wage, are currently set at $18.16, compared to the $22.70 minimum wage. 

A Labour policy document says more than 10,000 youth and trainee wages are up to $363 a fortnight less than other workers.

"This is unfair and inequitable. Labour believes the work of our 16 and 17 year olds and trainees should be valued the same as any other worker."

Labour would also progressively move health and education workers onto at least a living wage, while also ensuring the minimum wage is lifted every to close the gap between the two wages.

"When Labour came into Government, the living wage was $20.20 per hour - almost $5 an hour more than the minimum wage. Labour's increases mean the current minimum wage was less than a dollar lower than the 2022/23 living wage," Hipkins said.

"Lifting the minimum wage will support our lowest income earners and see wage growth continue upwards above the minimum wage too."

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson.
Greens co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Meanwhile, the Green Party is proposing to extend workers' annual leave entitlement to five weeks.

Currently, once an employee has been working for an employer for 12 months, they are entitled to four weeks of annual leave.

"The Green Party would phase in five weeks of annual leave. We will provide organisations plenty of notice and ensure the full five weeks is available for everyone by the end of 2025," Davidson said.

She said Aotearoa is not currently "working for all working people". 

"Tens of thousands of people are working two, sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet. This leaves hardly any time in the day for people to rest and enjoy time with the people they love."

She spoke of the Greens' support for fair pay agreements and sick leave being increased to 10 days. 

"We have also pushed to introduce pay transparency requirements - to help close the gender and ethnic pay gap, and foster fairness for Māori and Pasifika workers," Davidson said.

"The time is now to build on the work we’ve already done and make sure that everyone, no matter what job they do, has enough time off. It should not be that only the lucky few in well paying jobs get to take proper time off."

Labour's workplace relations and safety spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni claimed tworkers' rights were "under threat" from National's Christopher Luxon and ACT's David Seymour due to the "smorgasbord of cuts" those parties were proposing.

"Only a Labour Government will safeguard fair pay agreements, where applications are currently progressing to improve pay and conditions for bus drivers, hospitality staff, early childhood teachers, port workers, cleaners and security guards," Sepuloni said.

Davidson also said National, ACT and New Zealand First would "only serve to benefit big business and line the back pockets of their wealthy mates".

The ACT Party has a policy to impose a moratorium on minimum wage increases. National's Nicola Willis has previously committed to increasing the minimum wage.

Both parties have opposed fair pay agreements.

ACT wants big cuts to the public service - on Thursday claiming it would result in about 15,000 job losses - while National wants departments to bring down costs by about 6.5 percent on average.

Meanwhile, Luxon was at the Karaka School agricultural day on Saturday morning.

The National leader did a walkabout on the school’s muddy field, shaking the hands of locals, patting a few lambs and talking about the upcoming Warriors game. He was flocked by people wanting selfies and to express support.

But he didn't appear to be a fan of the Greens' proposal to extend annual leave to five weeks.

"We need to get this country growing, we need to get people working, we need to get this country moving," Luxon said.

Christopher Luxon out on the election campaign trail.
Christopher Luxon out on the election campaign trail. Photo credit: Newshub.

Labour's Willie Jackson, earlier in the campaign, claimed National and ACT would abolish the minimum wage if elected, despite that not being the policy of either party.

He made that comment during a debate, before then saying that the opposition parties would lower the wage, again neither party's policy.

He later told Newshub he meant to say the two parties wouldn't lift the minimum wage.

Hipkins said, "everybody knows Willie is a very passionate person".

"Where he makes a mistake, I know he will own up to that… They are not words that I would choose. The fact is, he admitted he had made a mistake."

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