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May 1, 2017 | by  | in Politics |
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Political Round Up

Pay equality

Last week saw a huge win in the ongoing battle for gender pay equality.

Back in 2013, aged care worker Kristine Bartlett won a landmark case against her government-subsidised employer. Bartlett successfully argued that care workers are paid less because their industry is dominated by women. While Bartlett’s individual case was a success, its wider ramifications remained unclear.

Last week, however, the government announced its long awaited settlement package for the estimated 55,000 workers employed in state-subsidised care jobs. From July, the predominantly female workforce would receive a pay rise ranging from 15 to 49 per cent.

Bartlett’s own employment is a case study in just exactly how exploited care workers have been. Despite working in the industry for 25 years, Bartlett was being paid just barely above minimum wage at $16 an hour. Under the new rules, that will move up to $20 and on to $23 by 2021.

Prime Minister Bill English hailed the settlement as a victory, heaping praise on what he described as the “hardest-working but lowest paid” workers in the country. But with all the positive rhetoric it’s easy to forget that the government fought against this settlement to the bitter end.

Through Bartlett’s protracted legal battles the government opposed her case and supported her employer. After the Supreme Court made its final ruling on the matter they continued to fight in the lengthy settlement negotiation process that followed.

The irony was not lost on Labour leader Andrew Little, who said he was surprised to see the government was making a settlement at all. He said that while the pay increase was a positive step, it did not address the underlying issues of gender discrimination.

There is no doubt that the settlement is an important step toward pay equity, but concerns remain over the way it is remembered. This is a moment to be grateful to the women who fought to address these issues, not to the successive governments who stood in their way.

Immigration rules

New Zealand’s working visa system looks set for major changes after an announcement from Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse. The Minister announced the new restrictions last week, with a call to businesses to “work harder” to employ New Zealanders.

The proposal introduces new restrictions on the different types of work visas offered by the government.

The Skilled Migrant visa, for instance, currently allows qualifying migrants the right to work in New Zealand indefinitely. Under the proposed changes, those applying for the visa will now have to meet an income threshold of nearly $50,000 a year, even if their job type was previously considered “skilled.”

The Essential Skills work visa is also undergoing changes. Those entering the country on this type of permit will only be able to stay for three years, before being forced to leave and wait through a stand-down period before reapplying.

The proposal was met with strong criticism from the Opposition.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the changes did not go far enough in limiting immigration. He quizzically described the country as in need of an immigration “breather,” and promised to introduce even tougher restrictions to reduce pressure on infrastructure and health care.

New Zealand First’s Winston Peters said the changes showed that the government lacked a clear immigration strategy. He called on the Minister to reduce immigration to 10,000 net per year.

While Opposition parties felt the changes did not go far enough, leaders from across a range of private industries feared that they were too restrictive.

International student advocates said that the changes were likely to put off prospective students looking to work in New Zealand after study. These students brought in huge economic benefits, with international education one of the country’s fastest growing markets.

Meanwhile, dairy farmers and produce growers say the changes could starve their industries of valuable seasonal labour that they struggle to find in New Zealand.

In response Mr Woodhouse described the changes as designed to challenge employers to take on more New Zealand workers. He claimed that record immigration was placing a heavy burden on taxpayers.

It’s little surprise that immigration has once again reared its head as a major election year issue. Political parties understand that immigration is an easy place to lay the blame for any number of issues. The question is where that leaves us once the dust of election day settles.

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