Best intentions worst results

February 21, 2017

LIving Wage advocates want employers to pay a minimum of $20.20 an hour from July.

The rate, more than $4 above the adult minimum wage, is at the level needed to provide families with the necessities, they say.

How many jobs will that cost?

The current Living Wage, of $19.80 has already cost 17 jobs at Wellington City Council according to a report by Jim Rose for the Taxpayers’ Union.

The report’s key findings were:

  • Seventeen Wellington City Council employees lost their jobs after being under the skill level required for the living wage.
  • Councils hire on merit, so candidates under the skill level commensurate with the living wage will be crowded out by higher-skilled candidates.
  • There is no consensus or scientific basis for the calculation of a living wage. Any calculations are politically subjective.
  • Any living wage in New Zealand will be abated by up to 40% by decreases in government transfers and increased income tax obligations.
  • Living wages shift the burden from means-tested taxpayers to ratepayers and business owners.
  • Below-living-wage employment allows for in-work training, where employees trade off lower wages for the opportunity to learn skills that increase their future earning potential. 

Living Wage Aotearoa New Zealand nobly want to alleviate poverty and reduce unemployment with their activism for a living wage, but the evidence to date shows they are achieving the exact opposite. This report shows that a living wage will only make it harder for low wage earners to find work.

Contrary to intentions, living wage policies actually hurt the very people they seek to help. For the first time, we reveal that seventeen parking wardens lost their jobs at the Wellington City Council as a result of its living wage policy.

Living wage policies mean higher-skilled candidates apply for jobs previously occupied by lower-skilled candidates. Of course councils will hire on merit and shortlist the candidates who previously would never have applied for the lower, pre-living wage role. That’s exactly what happened when Wellington City Council brought its parking services in-house.

Minimum wage applicants do not get a shot against better-qualified candidates attracted by the higher wages. So much for the poverty alleviation and reduced unemployment.

The economic theory is clear that living wages do more harm than good, but the job losses in Wellington is the proof in the pudding. Councils should stop implementing these living wage policies which achieve so little but cost ratepayers who can ill afford it.

Living wage policies mean ratepayers pay more for less and achieve none of the intended poverty relief.

Those are very damning conclusions, but not surprising.

The Living Wage is based on what someone thinks a family of four needs to have a reasonable life.

It bears no relation to individual employee’s needs, ability or performance.

I have several reservations about Working For Families but it is a better way to help low income workers with dependent children than the living wage which takes no account of the value of their work.

The full report is here.


Pay rise ought to be commended

August 17, 2016

Spark is  introducing a benchmark salary above which its staff are paid.

All non-commission full-time staff will earn at least $40,000 a year, and front-line commission employees who earn a lower base salary will earn an average of $42,000.

If compared to the current living wage of $19.80 an hour, $40,000 a year minimum falls short at $19.23 an hour.

Spark general manager of human resources Danielle George said the company wanted to “do the right thing” for its staff and attract the best talent, as well as contribute to turning New Zealand into a higher wage economy. . . 

“We have revised our entire value proposition, exploring how we can best deliver base pay and meaningful benefits, all designed to meet the needs of a very diverse workforce.”

The new Spark pay policy has benefited more than 250 staff who have received pay increases over the past two years to bring them up to the new level. . . 

That ought to be cause for commendation but the Council of Trade Unions’ Richard Wagstaff doesn’t think so:

“Their $40,000 salary that they’re promoting is actually a little under the living wage which doesn’t really inspire too much in terms of fair pay for people.”

Spark says the pay scheme is a commitment to a higher-wage economy, and once you take into account staff benefits, the overall package is better than the living wage.

“We want to do the right thing for our people and to attract the best people to a career in Spark,” says general manager of human resources Danielle George.

“If that sets a standard that encourages others to follow, that’s got to be a good thing for New Zealand.”

Benefits include credit towards Spark products and services, life and income insurance, flexible working arrangements and interest-free loans to buy company shares. . .

Spark is offering more than $4.00 an hour more than the minimum wage which is $15.25.

Paying that is a legal requirement and it’s reviewed each year, taking into account that increasing it could price some people out of jobs and threaten some businesses. The living wage is an artificial construct which takes no account of what’s affordable.

Another union, the PSA is praising three Wellington mayoral candidates who support the living wage:

The PSA held a forum for candidates which was attended by Justin Lester, Jo Coughlan, Helene Ritchie, Keith Johnson, Andy Foster, Nicola Young and Nick Leggett.

Mr Lester, Ms Ritchie and Mr Leggett confirmed they support the Living Wage for all council workers, including those employed through contractors and council-controlled organisations.

“We’re extremely pleased to hear three candidates plan to build on the good work already done by Wellington City Council towards making this a fairer city”, PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay says.

“The PSA decided to hold this forum to hear from the candidates first-hand about their vision for Wellington – including their stance on local ownership of local services and privatisation.

“Wellington City Council has already taken great strides towards becoming New Zealand’s first accredited Living Wage council since it voted to do so in 2013.
“We know this has the backing of Wellington’s voters – what’s now needed is a mayor and a council that will deliver on the promises and finish the job.”

Do voters really support that and if they do, are they happy to be rated more to pay for it?

Unlike the minimum wage, the living wage takes no account of the value of work being done or the danger that some businesses couldn’t survive if they were forced to pay it.

It’s also based on what a vicar thinks a family of four needs to participate in society which ignores the fact that not everyone has to support a family of four on their wages, and if they do Working For Families would give them a generous top-up if they were on a low wage.

New Zealand isn’t a high-wage economy and that’s a weakness. But the solution is increased productivity and upskilling, not the job-threatening imposition of the so-called living wage.


Higher wages, lower benefits, higher costs

June 11, 2014

The law of unexpected consequences struck when the minimum wage was increased in the USA city of SeaTac:

. . . Every debate over increasing the minimum wage comes with predictions that the law of unintended consequences will result in the opposite of what a higher wage is designed to accomplish—a better standard of living for low-wage workers.  Employers cannot pay a worker more than the value of their output.  In other words, if an employer must pay a worker $15 per hour, they must ensure the worker produces at least that amount, or they must figure out a way to reduce the cost of that labor.  So forcing employers to pay workers an artificially high wage creates perverse incentives for employers to find other ways to cut labor costs.

One way employers are cutting their labor costs in SeaTac, which recently mandated a $15 per hour minimum wage for certain workers, is by stripping away the benefits they used to offer. 

Northwest Asian Weekly reports that employees earning the new wage in SeaTac have lost benefits such as 401k, paid holidays and paid vacation, free food, free parking and overtime hours.  One hotel waitress said she is earning less because tips have decreased since the high wage has been in effect.  In many cases these benefits plus the lower state minimum wage added more value to workers’ earnings than the new $15 wage.

As one SeaTac worker put it, “It sounds good, but it’s not good.” . . .

But workers aren’t the only ones paying more, consumers are too:

Many SeaTac businesses have tacked on an additional fee to mitigate the increased cost of labor.  On the receipt below, a $6.93 “living wage surchage” was added to a $84.00 parking charge.  That is the equivalent of a 8.25% tax.

Contrary to what supporters claim, increasing the minimum wage does not create jobs and stimulate the economy.  The higher wages are not free money.  The increased cost must either be absorbed by the employer, which is impossible for many who already operate on shoe-string profit margins, or it must be passed on to workers, in the form of reduced hours and benefits, and consumers, in the form of higher prices.  Either way, someone pays.

Another consequence of higher wages is increased mechanisation to reduce the need for staff.

McDonalds recently went on a hiring binge in the U.S., adding 62,000 employees to its roster. The hiring picture doesn’t look quite so rosy for Europe, where the fast food chain is drafting 7,000 touch-screen kiosks to handle cashiering duties.

The move is designed to boost efficiency and make ordering more convenient for customers. In an interview with the Financial Times, McDonald’s Europe President Steve Easterbrook notes that the new system will also open up a goldmine of data. McDonald’s could potentially track every Big Mac, McNugget, and large shake you order. A calorie account tally at the end of the year could be a real shocker. . .

Proponents of the so-called living wage here pay no heed to the fact that money for higher wages has to come from somewhere.

If the wage increases aren’t at least equalled by higher productivity and profits then costs have to be cut or prices increased and it’s the very people the policy is trying to help who will be hurt most by that.


Where the living wage will lead

March 6, 2014

One of the criticisms of the living wage is that it takes no account of the relationship between the cost of an employee and the value of his or her work.

If the cost gets out of kilter with the value the employer is going to look for alternatives like this:

. . . In the new concept video, Pizza Hut swaps out the tables at its dine-in restaurants for massive touch-screen displays. Once you sit down, the first thing you’ll do is place your smartphone on the electronic table, activating the display and automatically signing into your own personalized account. Then you’ll design your pizza using the interactive screen before finalizing your order and paying through your device. Finally, the display lets you and your friends play popular mobile games while you wait. . .

This is only a concept, it will be a long time before it is implemented, if it ever is.

People will still be needed to cook the pizzas, bring them to the table and clean up after the diners but technology like this could reduce the number of waiting staff needed.

The more expensive staff become, the greater the cost of employing people in relationship to the value they provide, the more attractive technology to replace them becomes.

Hat tip: AEIdeas

 

 


Why stop at $15?

February 25, 2014

Labour Minister Simon Bridges announced the minimum wage will increase from $13.75 an hour to $14.25.

 . . The Starting-Out and training minimum wages will increase from $11 an hour to $11.40 an hour, which is 80 per cent of the adult minimum wage.

“Setting these wage rates represents a careful balance between protecting low paid workers and ensuring jobs are not lost,” says Mr Bridges.

“The increase announced today balances the needs of both businesses and workers and will have minimal impact on the wider labour market and inflationary pressures.

“This increase will keep the minimum wage at around 50 per cent of the average hourly rate, which is the highest rate in the OECD.

“The Government is firmly focussed on growing the economy and boosting incomes. Through our Business Growth Agenda we are creating opportunities to help grow more jobs in New Zealand, for New Zealanders.” . . .

That nearly half those surveyed think that’s not enough goes to show most people don’t understand the issues.

The only sustainable way to increase wages is by economic growth.

Without an increase in productivity and profit, an increase in wage rates will result in a decrease in job numbers.

The Green Party doesn’t understand that.

The Greens would have immediately raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said today. . .

Why stop there?

“Around 125,000 kids live in families where the adults earn less than the living wage. It is in the government’s hands to end poverty for working families and improve the lives of those kids. . .

Those families get Welfare for Families through which those with two children pay no net tax until they earn $50,000. Any increase in their pay will reduce their welfare. That’s less money from public coffers but they’ll be no better off and could be worse off if jobs are lost.

That living wage is an arbitrary figure and last week’s increase in it was based on different methodology from the original figure:

The ‘new’ living wage has shifted the goalposts and appears to be more about politics than public policy, says BusinessNZ.

Last year the living wage campaign said $18.40 should be the living wage, calculated on the basis of the living costs of a family of four.

The promoters now say the living wage for this year should be updated to the higher rate of $18.80.

“But the report shifts the goalposts,” BusinessNZ Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly said.

“The increase from $18.40 to $18.80 is not based on the same methodology as last year.

“Using the same methodology, for the same family of four, would show the new living wage should really be $22.89.

“If last year’s formula said $18.40 was needed for a living wage, and the same calculations now show $22.89 is required, why isn’t the campaign seeking $22.89 an hour?” Mr O’Reilly asked.

“Either the original calculations were flawed, or the campaign is just picking numbers out of thin air.”

Mr O’Reilly said decision makers could not have confidence that the living wage figures were soundly based.

“This switch in the figures used is important for taxpayers and ratepayers who are being asked to pay for the campaign. Wellington ratepayers are now funding the living wage policy for council employees and taxpayers would be funding it for all government employees under Labour Party policy.

“There can be no confidence in a living wage proposal set on an arbitrarily changing basis.”

The whole concept of a living wage which decrees everyone should be paid enough to support a family of four, regardless of what the work they do is worth, is flawed.

For the record, all our staff are paid more than the minimum wage.

That’s a decision we make in negotiation with them taking into account their skills and experience, what they’re required to do, the value of all of that and what the business can afford.


Living wage already up 40c

February 18, 2014

The ‘living wage’ has increased by 40 cents in just a few months:

The new figure for a living wage was also up from last year, with campaigners saying it now costs $18.80 an hour to feed two adults and two children in New Zealand.

The wage is based on a family with two children, where one adult is working full-time and the other half-time at the same wage.

The calculations come from the Anglican Family Centre research unit and are up 2.1 percent from last year’s estimate of $18.40 an hour. . .

The figures come from surveyed spending of the poorest half of Kiwi families with two adults and two children. Costs are figured on average New Zealand-wide rents for the cheapest quarter of three-bedroom houses and food costs for foods that meet Otago University’s nutritionists’ “basic” diet of nutritious food.

But the ‘living wage’ doesn’t just cover necessities like food and rent. The calculation was based on all sorts of other things the campaigners deem necessary  for a family with two children to participate in society, including overseas trips which most of us would regard as luxuries rather than necessities.
There is a need for an examination of why New Zealand wages aren’t higher and so many families have their incomes topped up by taxpayers.
But the ‘living wage’ which takes no account of the value of the work done is not the answer to that problem and would cost jobs:

. . . Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the figure seemed to be “much more what they feel rather than what good evidence suggests is right”.

He said raising the legal minimum wage to the original figure of $18.40 would cost employers $2.3 billion a year and wipe out 24,000 jobs. . .

A wage of $18.80 would be around $40,000 a year but a family with two children would get Working for Families on top of that.
Increasing the minimum wage to that figure would save taxpayers’ money but would not be affordable for all businesses, and would cover young, single and part-time workers without families.
If the figure has gone up by 40 cents in a few months,  it won’t stop at $18.80 and Labour has already raised the bar.
The party’s baby bribe would go to people earning up to $150,000 which is about $72 an hour.

If they think you need an extra $60 when you have a new baby who costs very little, how long before they think you need at least that when the baby is older?

By Labour’s reckoning the living wage isn’t around $40,000 but $150,00 and climbing.


Living wage doesn’t apply

January 8, 2014

An advertisement on the Green Party website:

Intern for Kevin Hague

Kevin Hague’s office has a vacancy for a parliamentary intern for 2014.

This is an unpaid, voluntary position based in Wellington. A minimum of 8 hours a week is required but the hours worked are negotiable. You will be required to go through a reference check and application process with both Kevin’s office and Parliamentary Service.

This position will give you the opportunity to see first-hand the work environment and process of a Green Party MP, and contribute to their team. The nature of the work is flexible around the applicants’ level of skill and interest but some background in Health, ACC, NZ politics, or Rainbow Issues will be preferred. . .

This from the party which is promoting the so-called living wage.

It obviously doesn’t apply here.


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