Minimum wage hike incentivises mechanisation

March 20, 2018

Case study 1: friend who grows capsicums has gradually been mechanising the processing as technology improves and money allows.

It improves efficiency and lowers costs.

It also requires less labour and he says the minimum wage hike which is being imposed on employers by the government will increase the costs savings and incentivise him to increase mechanisation.

Case study 2: a company which picks and packs fruit has a lot of problems getting enough reliable staff when it needs them, even with the Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme.

The hike in the minimum wage provided the incentive to mechanise further. The process which needed 24 workers now needs only 4.

Most employers accept that regular increases to the minimum wage and the flow-on effect on higher wages is the cost of doing business.

Most cope when the increase is modest.

But the jump in the minimum wage to $20 is considerably more than modest and providing an incentive for those who can mechanise their processes to do so.

 

 

 


$NZ minimum wage earners will be near global top 1%

October 28, 2017

The only country with a higher minimum wage than New Zealand is Australia.

Australia’s is $US13.59.

Ours is $US10.96. That’s an annual income, for a 40 hour week, of $US22,796.

The government has determined that the minimum wage will increase to $NZ20 an hour by 2021. That’s about $US14 which would be an annual income for a 40 hour week of $29,120.

New Zealand’s current minimum wage is very high in comparison with that in other countries.

It will probably be the highest in the world when it gets to $NZ20/hour and will put those on the minimum wage close to an annual income of $US32,400 a year which is in the top 1% of earners in the world.

I doubt if anyone on $NZ20 an hour would feel wealthy.

That figure of global income earners is low because in very poor countries a lot of people earn very, very little.

That’s not an argument for paying people here the pitiful amounts many earn elsewhere.

But it does show that the current minimum wage is generous in comparison with that in most other countries.

 

 

 


Automation answer to artificially high wages

August 22, 2017

NZ First wants a minimum wage of $20 an hour. The party also wants less immigration.

A higher minimum wage and fewer migrants are being promoted by other parties on the left too.

The dangers of that can be seen in the UK where British farms are preparing to work with fewer seasonal workers after Brexit:

The production of strawberries, raspberries and other berries has increased from some 60,000 tonnes a year to over 140,000 tonnes, and these are picked almost entirely by migrant workers from the EU. In 2015 about 85,000 seasonal agricultural workers came to Britain, 30,000 or so of them to pick fruit. As a recent report by Andersons Farm Business Consultants concludes, without EU labour the sector’s recent growth “would not have been possible”.

As Britain prepares to leave the EU and probably end the free movement of workers from the continent, farmers are scrambling to find farm hands. But they are also exploring more rigorously the alternatives to a bountiful supply of cheap labour, such as using more automation and increasing existing workers’ productivity. . .

There is no doubt that farmers are struggling to find workers. There are some Brexit-related reasons for this: the pound has fallen precipitately against the euro; and Britain is now often perceived to be “a xenophobic and unfriendly country”, says John Hardman, a director of one recruiting agency, HOPS Labour Solutions.

But the shortfalls also reflect structural shifts in the EU economy, in particular the rising prosperity, and higher wages, of those countries such as Poland and Romania that have historically supplied workers to Britain. . . 

Alison Capper, who chairs the horticultural board of the National Farmers Union, a lobby group, says that some British farmers are now having to make decisions “as to what to pick and what to leave”. But for now there is unlikely to be a lot of fruit left rotting in the fields. And to forestall such an eventuality, many in the industry have been heeding the government’s advice, to recruit more British workers, automate, or become more efficient—but with very mixed results.

Trying to recruit more British workers has, in the words of Mr Hardman, been a “staggering disaster”. He has managed to get only a handful of Britons out of 12,000 recruits sent to 225 farms. Money is not the main problem. Many farms pay above the minimum wage of £7.50 ($9.65) an hour, and fast pickers can earn up to £12 on piecework. But most Britons seem not to want to move to where the farms are, nor to take up jobs that only last for the season and involve getting up at 5am to work outdoors.

This is not confined to the UK. New Zealand horticulturists have the same problems, though ironically some of the migrants who will do the work here are from the UK.

Robots, on the other hand, are perfectly happy with such conditions, and are getting ever more dexterous at picking hard fruit, if not the squishier sort. Machines to pick strawberries and apples are already in use. They can pick at only about one-third the rate of a human, and farmers reckon that they miss about 15% of the crop. But they can make up for that by working 24 hours a day. They are expensive, though: one of the most popular strawberry-pickers costs about $250,000. Most farmers estimate that their large-scale deployment could still be a decade off.

As more businesses use robots and technology improves the cost will come down.

In the interim, farms have been trying to wring more productivity out of their existing operations. Many have invested in metal tabletops to grow strawberries so that workers can pick them more quickly. Farmers now grow particular strains that produce more fruit over a longer season, such as ever-bearing strawberries. Others are spending more time on training their pickers. One farmer, Harry Hall, says that he has been able to improve his workers’ picking speeds by about 15% this year. Valya, a Bulgarian university student working on his farm in Twyford, 50km west of London, says that whereas she started out picking raspberries at 9kg per hour, after training she can pluck 11kg. . . 

Increased productivity is better for workers, businesses and the wider economy.

But artificially boosting wages through an increase in the minimum wage would add costs to businesses which would be passed on to consumers.

And if immigration is cut the problem will not be how much each worker can do, but how to get the workers who are willing and able to do the work.


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.


The story but not the whole story

April 1, 2016

RNZ asks is the minimum wage increase helpful or hopeless?

. . .  a cleaner who does night shifts at Auckland Council said the rise was still not enough to make it easier to support her family.

Before today, Lupe Funua’s wage was $15.10. That rate would be pushed up 15 cents to match the new minimum wage.

With a three-year-old son at home, a baby due in a few months, and a husband who was also a cleaner on minimum wage, she said every week she worried she was not earning enough. . . 

That’s the story but not the whole story which should include the family’s entitlement to Working for Families and they might also be eligible for housing assistance.

. . . Once the bills were paid, she said she had nothing to send home to her parents in Tonga, which devastated her. . . 

Wanting to help her parents is commendable but an employer can’t take that, or any other wishes however noble they might be, into consideration when determining what wage rates are affordable for the business.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said the government first considered a 25-cent rise, but decided to be more generous.

He said lifting the rate any higher would mean some people losing their jobs.

That is a very important part of the story. Increasing the minimum wage can cost jobs and drives the move to more mechanisation. It also has a flow-on affect for people who are paid more the legal minimum.

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Andrew Hoggard said any rise would affect the struggling dairy industry.

“I think the concern for farm employers might be around farmers employed in the roles above those on the minimum wage – farm assistants – who would also get a boost,” he said.

“That’s going to be the discussion that farm employers will have with the employees and for many it’s not going to be an option.” . . 

I don’t know anyone who pays farm workers the minimum wage and most farm staff have non-cash rewards like a rent-free house which takes their annual effective pay well above the minimum.

 

 

 


Labour doesn’t understand business

March 1, 2016

Labour said it’s worried about jobs which will disappear but is complaining the increase in the minimum wage isn’t high enough.

The minimum wage is just that, the minimum. It’s a floor not a ceiling.

Any business which can afford to pay its workers more than that can and many will.

But not all work is worth more than that and imposing higher costs on businesses without lowering other costs or increasing returns will put other jobs and whole businesses at risk.

It will also increase the move to replacing people with machines which is supposedly one of Labour’s big worries.

In another example of Labour’s lamentable lack of understanding of business principles, the party wants to force forests to sell logs to local mills.

Forest owners responded:

Forest owners say they are keen to sell their logs to local mills, so long as the terms of sale match those from export markets.

Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes says there have been cases where local mills have been unwilling to do this.

“It’s not just about price. It’s also about the payment risk, the length of the contract and the quality of the logs on offer. Many modern mills have tight specifications for log supply. Logs that don’t meet those specifications are usually exported. This will always be the case,” he says.

Responding to a call from Labour Party MP Stuart Nash that “foreign forest owners” should be forced to sell logs to local mills, Mr Rhodes says owners of forests – foreign, corporate, private companies, iwi, partnerships or individuals — look for terms and conditions that give them the best overall returns.

“In many cases they get only one chance to do this, having spent 27 years growing their trees. This is crucial – forestry is not a one-way bet. Just ask those forest owners, particularly in Northland, who are not replanting after harvest, because log prices are not high enough to justify re-investment.”

Mr Rhodes says it is unfair to single out overseas owners of large plantations as the reason for mill failures.

“It may appeal to the emotions, but does not advance public understanding one iota. Overseas owned forestry companies are among the leaders of the industry. They make significant investments in jobs, worker safety and the environment.”

 

He says forest owners understand the importance of New Zealand having a viable wood processing industry and are partners in the Wood Council which is committed to having more value added to logs in NZ.

“We are talk regularly with politicians from the various political parties about policies that will assist the forest and wood processing industries remain vibrant, viable industries providing employment in the regions. Mr Nash’s proposed policy is not one of them.”

Forestry is a risky business with a long time between planting and payment.

Forest owners aren’t charities. They’re businesses and need good returns to if they’re going to continue in business and employing their own staff.


Labour’s unemployment policy

July 31, 2014

Labour misnamed the employment policy it announced yesterday – it’s actually a recipe for increasing unemployment:

Labour’s intention to increase the minimum wage to two-thirds of the average wage would hurt business, cost jobs and reduce growth, Labour Minister Simon Bridges says.

“Labour’s policy to immediately increase the minimum wage to $16.25 would cost at least 6,000 jobs, and a wage of $18 would cost around 16,500. If you want to make people unemployed this is a good way to go about it,” Mr Bridges says.

“Setting the minimum wage represents a careful balance between protecting low-paid workers and ensuring jobs are not lost. You cannot legislate your way to higher wages with the stroke of a pen.

“If it’s not based on increased productivity, simply paying people higher wages is a cost that gets passed on to New Zealanders as higher taxes, reduced competitiveness, inflation and fewer jobs.

“Labour’s promise to scrap National’s successful 90-day trial legislation would also cost thousands of jobs. Research showed that a third of employers who used the trial period would not have hired a new employee without it. And an overwhelming majority of employers have kept staff on after the trial period ended.

“As for Labour’s promise to pay all core public service workers at least the Living Wage: why should core government employees — who only represent about two per cent of the workforce — earn more than a private sector employee doing a similar job?

“Labour’s promise to implement industry standard agreements is a return to the 1970s and is a cynical payback to the Unions for their support.

“It would require all regional employers to pay the same pay rates as one in downtown Auckland. That would cause real damage to regional economies.

“This Government is achieving strong job growth by operating flexible labour market policies that encourage employers to take on new workers.

“Flexibility, choice and fairness in the labour market helps create jobs, increase wages and encourages innovation, and it is critical for supporting a stronger and more productive economy,” Mr Bridges says.

Labour is still suffering under the delusion that it can legislate wealth.

It doesn’t understand that increasing wages by diktat isn’t sustainable and anything that adds costs, complexity or risk to employing people will increase unemployment.


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