The Government and dairy farmers are facing a backlash
from trade unions after Labour Minister Simon Bridges yesterday
announced changes which include a fortnightly minimum wage
The Government's changes to the Minimum Wage Order related to
a recent court ruling which found a week was the longest
period which salaried workers could be assessed for
compliance with the Minimum Wage Act.
''The ruling does not adequately reflect current work
practices, such as salaried employees on fortnightly
rosters,'' he said.
Council of Trade Unions general counsel Jeff Sissons said the
change was an example of poor policy making on the hoof.
''The Government is succumbing to pressure from dairy farmers
to change a system that has worked well since the 1890s.
It will benefit some of the worst employers in the country
and could result in pay reductions for thousands of workers
near the minimum wage,'' he said.
A move to fortnightly calculations allowed an employer to
offset payments for work in one week against payments due to
the worker in the following week.
For example, the weekly minimum wage was $570 per week, and
the new fortnightly rate would be $1140.
A worker who earned $670 in one week - through overtime,
shift rates and other payments - and $470 in the next week
would, under current law, be able to claim up to $570 in the
Under the new law, the employer would be able to count the
additional payments in the first week.
Mr Sissons said the changes made it more attractive for
employers to make their workers undertake long hours.
Along with proposed changes to remove guaranteed rest and
meal breaks, the longer hours would lead to greater fatigue
and more accidents.
The CTU understood the amendment came as a direct result of
lobbying by dairy farmers who were pushing for a loosening of
employment laws following Ministry of Business Employment and
Innovation inspections finding nearly three-quarters of dairy
farms inspected breached their workers' ''basic employment
rights'', he said.
''This change sends a message to employers they should lobby
their way out of basic obligations rather than observe them.
The Government should be encouraging farmers to improve their
workers' pay and conditions, not worsen them.''
Service and Food Workers Union national secretary John Ryall
said Mr Bridges had ignored the concerns of unions and
low-income workers in amending the Minimum Wage Order to
allow ''averaging'' of the minimum wage.
Under the averaging regime, low-income workers would need to
be issued with calculators every fortnight to find out
whether they were being paid above or below the minimum wage.
''The truth is the change is being pushed through by the
minister to help his National Party dairy farmer mates who
have been exploiting their farm labourers by regularly paying
them below the minimum wage,'' Mr Ryall said.
However, Mr Bridges said by including a fortnightly minimum
wage rate, employees would still be paid for every hour they
worked and the expectation was employers must continue to
keep an accurate record of hours worked and wages paid.
Most employers and employees would be unaffected by the new
order. It affected primarily minimum wage earners who were
At a glance
- Minimum wage earners who are paid salaries will have their
pay averaged over two weeks.
- Government says the change would more adequately reflect
current work practices.
- Trade unions say dairy farm workers are likely to be
exploited by working longer hours with fewer breaks.