How out of touch with reality is Sir Bob Jones? You know, that white dude who invested in privatised SOEs after the selling off of our assets in the eighties and made a ludicrous and disgusting amount of money and is on the Forbes Rich List and now writes for the New Zealand Herald. His last op-ed ‘Living Wage is a Reward Not a Right’ was so hilarious it reads almost like a parody, only it isn’t. According to Jones those left-wingers demanding a living wage are “absurd” – yeah, it is completely insane to demand low-paid employees get a wage that might pull them above the poverty line and put food on their tables without having to forgo another necessity like paying the power bill.
Dear Sir Bob Jones,
It is nice you like to swoon around cafés, asking owners questions like: “I have a million questions. How do you cope with buggers occupying key tables for two hours over a single cup of coffee?” Not exactly journalistic questioning at its best. (How much do they pay you to write this shit?). I have worked hospitality for ten long shitty years and between the million orders you have to fill in a short space of time and the long hours, you are nearly always paid poverty wages to work, as an employee you don’t really care about people who are occupying tables for long periods of time. It is just one less table you have to worry about.
Mostly, when you work hospo, you are just dying for your next cig brake and hoping to god everyone magically just fucks off so you can finally go and take a piss and sit down. Standing for hours and hours on your feet starts to hurt after a while. Getting regular brakes in hospo is a privilege not a [workers] right. I’ve easily worked up to 16 hours without a brake because bars and cafes are nearly always short staffed – your employer saves money but you end working twice as hard.
If you really want to find out the reality of low-paid work, you might want to start by talking to the staff working at these places – not just the owners. Cafés and bars are notorious for treating their staff appallingly in New Zealand. Being paid minimum wage to work long shifts for such little pay and deal with irate and rude customers who often treat you like something they just stepped in and sexually harass you (working in bars often result in drunk customers harassing you) is not exactly self-affirming. In my experience (and I have a decade of it) owners and managers seem to take pleasure in making sure you know that as an employee you are worthless and expendable – and I have worked in over 9 different bars and 3 different cafés and only once I have been paid a fair wage and treated with dignity and respect.
Not to mention you have zero job security and employers often give you as many or as little shifts as they please, regardless of what your contract stipulates. This is made even easier by the recent popularity in zero-hero contracts, something that has been taken up especially within the hospitality industry
Speaking of job security, I thought I would share something with you Bob: the anxiety of having no job security is crippling. I used to work two bar jobs because I was so terrified of losing one, it was not like I had savings; you can’t save on minimum wage. The logic was: if I had two jobs and I got ‘rostered off’ I would at least have another job to fall back on. (In hospo terms, “rostering off” is a common practice where an employee turns up to work and for some explicable reason have no shifts on the roster for the following weeks. Effectively you just got fired, but without the annoying hassle of employers actually going through the process of a legal dismissal.)
Yeah, that is the only kind of job security I have ever had: holding two jobs in case I lost the other.
As Linda Tirado, a young mother who has spoken out about the inequalities and realities of trying to live on minimum wage, wrote:
“We all know that a lot of folks think that poor people are lazy and incompetent. They think we get fired from jobs because we don’t know how to behave, or we’re always late, or we just don’t care. But what rich people don’t realise is how unbelievably easy it is to get fired. And a lot of times what gets you fired is that you’re working more than one job.”
And this brings me to the illusion you seem to be labouring under, Bob, that if you train or study and make some ‘sacrifices’ you will finally win the prize of a ‘liveable wage’. You wrote:
“If you want the $18.50 “living wage” or better, choose employment paying it, rather than complain. That requires initial sacrifice, whether by studying for a professional career or accepting temporary low-paid trade or other specialist training.”
Dude, you should quit property investing and become a comedian because damn, this is hilarious. Getting a degree, especially a vocational degree, no longer guarantees you (did it ever?) a job – let alone a career with remuneration that pays back that staggering student debt you acquired while making those “sacrifices”. I know it did back in your day, Bob, but times, oh, how they have changed. Unlike the students of today you did not start off your career in debt: university was free. Baby boomers always forget to mention this or see it as ‘none issue’ – especially when they are telling us underpaid or unemployed people we just need to work harder and stop complaining.
When students revolted two years ago against John Key’s massive cuts to education he told protesting students to: “stop complaining, finish your degrees and go and get a job”. The only problem is there where so few jobs to “go and get”. The job market is saturated with over-qualified and often desperate graduates. I trained as a teacher and in just two years we lurched from a teacher shortage to a major oversupply. Leaving me and thousands of other graduates out of work.
The disenfranchising of the young is a major worldwide crisis: last year the New Statesman reported that “youth unemployment in Britain is 21 percent (958,000), a near record.” Recently on Russell Brand’s YouTube show The Trews the co-founder of the ‘99% Movement’ Dave Degraw said in relation to Americas unemployment crisis, “we only have full-time jobs for 50% of the working age population and of those jobs half of them pay under 35,000 a year.”
What this means is America’s economy only works for 25% of the population. The Huffington Post reported that more than 2 million graduates in America are unemployed and millions more are under-employed. In New Zealand 40% of our youth are unemployed or under-employed, and in 2012 the highest percentage of people graduated from universities in New Zealand only to find that their diplomas and degrees often counted for nothing in the job market.
Well educated or not, it is a struggle to find underpaid work let alone meaningful and well-paid work in a stagnant job market, where job creation has stalled. As Degraw said:
“In a technologically advancing society you need fewer and fewer workers so we have to address the issue of providing necessities to everybody[…] I’ve come to realise that we absolutely need a guaranteed income; a guaranteed living income so people can support themselves and buy basic necessities.”
The only reasoning you offer up for your support of the minimum wage is most small businesses cannot afford to pay any more than poverty wages: “What particularly interested me was the salaries for what’s essentially menial work. In most cases they’re on the minimum wage. Any more and they’re [business oweners] out of business.”
As the foundation ‘Closing the Gap’ said in reaction to your belief that small companies simply cannot afford to pay their workers anything above poverty wages,
“It is interesting that those that oppose a living wage always quote the example of “small businesses going broke” or “pay rises equal job losses”. No mention of the large multi-national corporations that export huge profits while expecting the Government to make the difference for their substandard pay. Nor that history shows that “pay rises equal more jobs” as economies thrive.”
The issue is it is not just small businesses refusing to pay a liveable wage so people don’t go hungry and can pay their rent. Massive lucrative companies such a Walmart in America are refusing to pay their workers above minimum wage also. Walmart workers have been protesting and demanding $15 dollars an hour and more stable work hours for over a year now. The six heirs to the Walmart fortune in America have more wealth than 30 percent of the poorest Americans. But these heirs do not support giving their workers 15 dollars an hour – this is not much to ask for really, is it?
The problem is not a lack of education or motivation, it has nothing to do with people on minimum wage needing to work harder to earn the “reward” of a liveable wage – the issue is greed and a (capitalist) system that values profit over people.
The problem is, Sir Bob Jones, you are part of the fucking problem: you are part of the elite 1% that has hoarded most of this world’s capital and helped to create massive wealth inequality. As Russell Brand wrote in his book Revolution, “Oxfam say a bus with eighty-five of the richest people in the world on it would contain more wealth than the collective assets of half the earth’s population – that’s three and a half billion people.”
A liveable wage is not a “reward”, it is a basic human right. People should be able to buy food without foregoing other basic needs like heating in winter or rent. People deserve to live in dignity and have time to spend with their kids and friends, instead of slaving away at some low paid job with little prospect of moving up or ever getting a pay rise.
Maybe what we need is a maximum wage so we can begin to close the gap between the super wealthy like yourself, Bob, and the poor and working poor. This current economic system is unsustainable, and people are rising up all around the world to demand a fairer and more equal world – from the Occupy Movement to the Walmart workers, who are relentless in their protests and demands for fair pay, people are tired of getting a raw deal.