Govt orders wages up and urges Kiwis out – or how to heap a burden on bosses while making escape from Ukraine a dilemma

First, there was good news for low-paid workers, although it wasn’t so good for employers.  The government announced it was raising the minimum wage 6 per cent from $20 to $21.20 an hour from April 1.

Next day, the government was issuing something it presumably regarded as good advice for New Zealanders in an overseas trouble spot, but this had a disconcerting dimension to it.

These New Zealanders were urged to get out of Ukraine fast as Russian troops amass on the border.  The snag is that getting back into New Zealand won’t be as easy as getting out of Ukraine.

The rise in the minimum wage was described by Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) chief executive Brett O’Riley as  a “kick in the guts” for many businesses.  This was ironic – he contended – because business groups had been discussing with Treasury what extra support might be available for sectors struggling with constraints imposed by the red-setting response to Covid-19.

But one business sectors probably was mollified by the news it was being given special government help. The Events Transition Support Payment scheme will be extended to 31 January 2023 and expanded to include business events.

Another sector, digital technologies, would have been distracted by the release of a draft Industry Transformation Plan for consultation.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood announced the bigger pay packets for low-wage workers, saying the Government is delivering on its election pledge to raise the minimum wage for New Zealand’s lowest-paid workers by increasing it to $21.20 an hour from 1 April 2022.

The starting-out and training minimum wage will increase from $16 to $16.96 an hour.

Wood laced his statement with references to Covid-19:

“Many Kiwis who earn the minimum wage have gone above and beyond in our fight against COVID-19. We remain committed to supporting New Zealanders by raising their wages, as we continue to recover and rebuild from the pandemic,” Michael Wood said.

“With the arrival of Omicron, we are once again calling on many of our frontline workers – such as cleaners, supermarket workers, and security guards – to keep the country running as the virus spreads and cases begin to increase. I think everyone agrees those contributing so much to our COVID response deserve a pay rise.”

The rise would help many households that have been most impacted by the effects of COVID, Wood said

Raising the minimum wage is expected to directly benefit about 300,000 workers.

Someone working a 40-hour week on the minimum wage will now earn an extra $48 a week, and almost $2,500 more each year.

Annie Newman, from the E tū union, said the increase would benefit the country’s lowest-paid workers, including many essential workers who were providing vital services during the ongoing Covid crisis.

“It recognises that we need to pay workers properly for the work they do. Essential work shouldn’t be, and doesn’t need to be, poorly paid.”

But the union will continue to push for the minimum wage rate to be brought into line with the living wage rate of $22.75.  For good measure, she said creating a truly decent working environments for all New Zealanders requires the implementation of fair pay agreements, along with a social unemployment insurance scheme.

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope, not unexpectedly, took a contrary position.  He said businesses were “under extreme pressure” from fast-rising costs in labour, capital, and in their supply chains.

“It is a big increase to the minimum wage, at very short notice, that businesses have had little time to get ready for.

“For those sectors that are struggling to stay alive, with no additional support under Red settings, the minimum wage increase is a cruel regulation that adds critically to the burden facing businesses in 2022.

“We call on the Government to increase support for businesses affected by this crushing compulsory increase to the minimum wage.”

A day after we learned about the higher minimum wage, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the Government is advising New Zealanders to leave Ukraine immediately.

The statement contained advice for Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, too:

“Aotearoa New Zealand calls on Russia once more to take immediate steps to reduce tensions and the risk of a severe miscalculation,” said Nanaia Mahuta.

We suspect Putin will be as willing to act on Mahuta’s advice as local government leaders in this country are willing to embrace her Three Waters plan.

New Zealanders in Ukraine, on the other hand, may well be eager to take Mahuta’s advice and get out of Ukraine fast , but will wonder where then they should go.

“In response to heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the New Zealand Government is advising New Zealanders in the Ukraine to leave immediately while there are commercial flights able to get them home,” said Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta today.

“Those registered on SafeTravel have been notified directly, and we encourage all Kiwis currently in the Ukraine not registered to do so immediately.”

New Zealand does not have diplomatic representation in Ukraine and the government’s ability to provide consular assistance to New Zealanders in Ukraine is limited.

Kiwiblog’s David Farrar said the minister’s advice is hypocritical.

The Government has said New Zealanders in Ukraine should leave the country asap as it is about to become a war zone. Yet the Government won’t allow the same New Zealanders to return home, as it won’t give them automatic entry into MIQ.

So what are Kiwis in Ukraine meant to do? Go live in Russia?

Is Kiwiblog correct in saying those Kiwis can’t come home because of the MIQ rules?

A 1News report suggests it is.

MBIE, which looks after MIQ, didn’t answer 1News’ question about giving Kiwis in Ukraine spots in MIQ, instead referring us to the Emergency Allocation guidelines.

An ACT press statement fortified this:

“The Government has left Kiwis in the Ukraine in limbo, telling them to leave but not offering them a way home,” ACT Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs spokesperson Brooke van Velden.

“Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has called on New Zealanders in Ukraine to leave because of heightened tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

“However, it is currently unclear that these New Zealanders will be able to return and enter our borders.”

Van Velden said she has written to Mahuta and to COVID-Response Minister Chris Hipkins urging the Government to issue immediate emergency MIQ allocations to returnees from Ukraine.

“New Zealanders overseas face entering a lottery to enter their own country, or days of bureaucracy waiting to know whether they will be accepted for an emergency allocation.

“In ACT’s view, people should be able to home isolate when returning to New Zealand. The Ukrainian evacuation is yet another reason to dump MIQ.

“As this isn’t the Government’s position, and MIQ continues, we must ensure that the New Zealanders being asked to leave Ukraine will not be turned away from entering New Zealand’s borders because of MIQ.”

If they leave at the Government’s request, the Government must guarantee their safe entry, Van Velden said.

You can read her letter to Chris Hipkins here

Latest from the Beehive

Government calls on New Zealanders in Ukraine to leave immediately

The New Zealand Government is advising New Zealanders to leave Ukraine immediately, said Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

Government delivers certainty and support for large-scale events

The Events Transition Support Payment scheme (ETSP), will be extended to 31 January 2023 and expanded to include business events, Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash announced today.

Govt committed to growing NZ’s digital technologies sector

Digital Economy and Communications Minister David Clark has today released the digital technologies sector draft Industry Transformation Plan for consultation.

10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

New Zealand has reached a milestone of 10 million COVID-19 vaccines administered, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today.

Govt expands mental health

More families will have access to online parenting and family support programmes in response to the continued disruption caused by COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.

Govt increasing wages for lowest paid workers

The Government is delivering on its election pledge to raise the minimum wage for New Zealand’s lowest paid workers by increasing it to $21.20 per hour from 1 April 2022.

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